CBIA BizCast: Microboard’s Global Humanitarian Mission
After 40 years in business, Seymour-based Microboard has become known for two things: producing high-quality, high-tech circuit board assemblies and its global humanitarian efforts.
“There’s not enough hours in my day to run this and listen to all that good news,” says CEO and president Nicole Russo. “You know, I just try to fit it all in.”
Russo’s father Craig Hoekenga founded the company in 1983 after experiencing a revelation on a red-eye flight from California.
“The calling was to one, service one of his clients by repairing Teddy Ruxpin toys,” Russo said. “He was actually working to help build that business.
“And then it was also to help people around the world that were less fortunate making less than $1 a day with medical, water aid, and education.”
That epiphany led to a 40-year journey, ultimately building products for the medical, military, industrial, and telecom sectors.
“He always went after the most advanced technology equipment, even before our customers knew they needed it,” she said.
“I watched him think long and visionary on things, and that’s what we’ve continued to do.”
Russo and her two siblings grew up in the business.
“My dad’s rule when we were growing up in the businesses, we had to work here in the summers,” she said.
“Then, he wanted us to get a higher education and work someplace else for five to seven years to, as he would term it, really get our noses bloodied someplace else.”
Russo did that by working in distressed debt at GE Capital, becoming one of the company’s youngest women vice presidents.
“I learned the finance and accounting side of business really well, which I’m convinced you can run any business in the world if you know how to do the numbers,” she said.
After returning to Microboard, Russo took over for her father as president of the company in 2009.
“I’ve just surrounded myself with the best engineers, the best customer service, and a really great marketing and sales team,” she said.
As Microboard grew, so did its humanitarian mission.
“How do we help people, and then also at the same time, give them the critical medical, education, and water that they need,” Russo said.
Today, Microboard’s efforts include partnering with a team to build a school in Jaipur, India, with a goal of growing it to welcome 5,000 students.
They are also working in hostile areas of Africa to help improve communications and build new water wells.
“Water brings peace, everyone needs water,” Russo notes. “We’ve seen some of the barriers break down across tribal areas.”
In the Philippines, teams are building churches in some of the country’s remote areas.
“Every dollar we send goes directly to the people, it’s not going to administrative,” Russo said. “So every dollar is getting where it needs to be.”
Russo said the COVID-19 pandemic actually brought an unforeseen silver lining.
When they couldn’t fly their mission partners to the U.S., they put them all on a Zoom call.
“Before you knew it, they were cross sharing each other,” she said.
“This one sending a water rig from Northern Africa down to Southern Africa, this one sharing fabric from India that they need in the Philippines and it’s been phenomenal to see this thing explode.”
Microboard’s humanitarian mission grew two years ago after the passing of Russo’s father.
“We were sad, but we said we’re going to honor him somehow,” she said.
That led them to create Sandy’s Helpers in Nigeria, named after Russo’s mother.
They provide widows and those with no other means of making a living with goats, chickens, and honeybees.
“They are actually self-sustaining now as they provide for their families, whether it’s milking the goat, selling the milk, making cheese,” Russo said.
In just the two years since her father passed, Sandy’s Helpers has supported a couple hundred widows.
Microboard’s global mission has become a source of pride for the company’s workforce.
“It’s part of our ethos here every day,” Russo said.
“They’re thinking about, ‘hey, I’m not just coming to work every day, I want to actually be able to talk to my family about working somewhere that’s really leaving a legacy for the next generation.’”
That sense of pride also extends to the cutting edge work being done at Microboard.
“Many times we’re looking at product that is leading edge, and components that are smaller than the size of a grain of sand,” Russo said.
She said there’s nothing that’s come to them that they can’t build.
Micoboard works with 15 core customers, producing many products with lifesaving applications.
That includes helping Guilford-based Defibtech make thousands of defibrillators every month.
The company also developed an indoor active shooter alarm detective system with Alarm.com.
That system is now deployed in places like schools and government buildings.
“My two nephews were at Sandy Hook when the tragedy happened,” Russo said.
“So when they approached us to build that product about nine years ago, it was just a startup and we had an emotional connection.”
And Microboard works on military devices such as the sophisticated night vision goggles used in war zones, including Ukraine.
“These are really important,” she said. “Life-saving defibrillators, shot detection systems, and things for our soldiers every day are being produced here.”
Taking a Breath
With all of the hard work they do, Russo said it’s important for her and the staff to have fun.
“You have to take a breath and step back and slow down and say, ‘are we enjoying what we’re doing?’ and making sure the employees are feeling that,” she said.
Looking to the future, Russo said they are already bringing up the third generation of business leaders and humanitarian partners.
“We’re going to continue to pour our time into the best technology, add a few select customers, we’re going to continue to support, humanitarian partners, and our goal is 40 years from now, we’re celebrating that 80th,” she said.
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