“Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.”—Bill Gates
Growing up, Kent Milholland was an athlete, musician,
but also a nerd. The son of a math and science teacher, Kent bought his first computer (the Commodore 64) in the 8th grade and taught himself how to program it using BASIC. He helped lead math and science teams to win State competitions, his basketball team lost only 10 games in 4 years (Kent is 6’11”), and he was first chair All State Band playing in Euphonium. He graduated as Class Valedictorian. But the most telling moment with respect to his future came when Kent signed up for his first computer programming class in high school. He finished the entire academic year’s projects in about a month and became the teacher’s assistant.
Not by coincidence, Kent was recruited to play basketball at the University of Pennsylvania. Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740, it is also the university where ENIAC, the first computer was invented. The ENIAC was the size of a gym and had the processing power of a modern calculator! (We’ve come a long way.…)
“The more I C, the less I see.”
Kent majored in mechanical engineering, with a strong emphasis in computer programming. He learned to program in many “languages” (and if you’re also a nerd, you will want to know that they included C, Pascal, Fortran, and Assembly. His engineering curriculum had him writing programs for processing differential equations.
As a summer engineer at DuPont, Kent was given the task of building a program in S2020 that would manage the inventory control of the company’s most profitable production facility in New Johnsonville, TN. Kent completed the program in six weeks; DuPont used it for six years. For “fun” in college, Kent and a group of fellow geeks built a solar powered race car for the 1990 General Motors Sunrayce. The car was driven from Orlando to Detroit!
“There are 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.”
Upon graduation, Kent was hired to work in the oil and gas industry. While a colleague was on leave, Kent was assigned to waste traffic control. Within two weeks, Kent had written a program using DBase IV to streamline the paperwork processing. When the employee returned from leave, the job that used to take an entire work week could now be done in 2 days!
Kent was part of the environmental remediation clean-up team for most of his career. According to SEC liability disclosures published in the early 1990’s, the energy company booked an environmental liability of near $300 million dollars with a projected 20 year program to address all the issues. By 2003, the project was nearly complete, had only taken about 8 years, and was on track to only spend $150 million.
During the large clean-up project, Kent designed a web-based data management program that brought contractors, laboratories, and other vendors in the supply chain into one system. It processed about 125,000 soil and water samples and ultimately saved the company more than $5 million dollars in six years! Using this same system, he leveraged the data to produce statistical reports, reducing oversight requirements that resulted in additional savings.
“If you give someone a program, you will frustrate them for a day; if you teach them how to program, you will frustrate them for a lifetime.”
Next, Kent joined a mid-size engineering company that managed environmental data for clients such as Alcoa and Sanofi-Aventis. As Strategic IT Manager, one of his clients dubbed him the “Yoda of the database world”.
In 2005, Kent founded NeoNexus Corporation. The company’s initial focus was as an environmental data management company based on the software as a service model. The company has quickly expanded to smart phone software, website development, custom databases, web marketing and all things internet related. The expansion of NeoNexus came in response to requests from clients as they sought a serious, full-service professional company that could help them grow their online presence over time.
Reflecting on what differentiates his company from the competition, Kent says: “I focus on hiring project managers who are technologically competent, but who also have great customer service and communication skills. Our project managers serve as a bridge between our technical staff and our customers. We also keep costs low by using a virtual workforce. Both our full-time employees and contract employees can work remotely, using web based project management tools like Basecamp, Secret Server, Skype, and GoToMyMeeting. This reduces overhead and allows staff to adapt their workload around their lifestyles.”
Just like his computer modeling, Kent’s business model works. NeoNexus is quickly approaching its 200th web client, most of whom have been referrals. Clients love that NeoNexus team members can speak and teach “geek” in a language that every layperson can understand. Even more impressive are the results that Neonexus achieves. One client, an auto repair company, went from $0 online revenue in 2009 to over $80,000 of revenue online in 2010, thanks to web marketing efforts by NeoNexus. Another client, a vacation rental company, went from 12,000 visitors to 46,000 visitors per month.
How does he do it? Like a born teacher, Kent gives an analogy that makes it easy to understand: “NeoNexus is like a general web contractor. You wouldn’t hire a plumber to build your entire house, so you shouldn’t hire a programmer or graphic designer to build your web presence. We are a company that has diverse specialists all devoted to the goal of building your web presence, yet all highly skilled in their own competencies (think: architect, plumber, electrician, decorator, etc.). This way the client gets quality work at the best value.”
“Better to be a geek than an idiot.”
When he’s not building his business with new programs like map-based searching for realtors and Magento-based eCommerce solutions for web retailers, Kent spends time with his wife and his 7-year-old son, Michael. Michael is following the pattern; top grades at school, plays soccer, basketball, t-ball, and loves cub scouts. When Kent is not enjoying the beach, you can also find him building websites for non-profits at no (or low) cost. Kent has given back to many good causes, including:
- The West Virginia Center for African American Culture
- The Boy Scouts
- The Brigade Boys and Girls Clubs of Wilmington
- The Wilmington Junior Golf Academy
- The Scott Gordon Memorial Scholarship
- Eaton Elementary PTA
In fact, childhood education is a subject that is near and dear to Kent’s heart. His mother, Judith Ann Patterson Milholland, was a graduate of the Peabody School of Education (now part of Vanderbilt University). She devoted her life to teaching. During her career as a public school teacher, Mrs. Milholland, a very popular math and science teacher, achieved the highest rating at the time under the Tennessee Master Teach program and influenced the lives of hundreds of young people. She could also smell grape bubble gum a mile away, so kids learned to never chew that flavor in her class!
Mrs. Milholland lost her battle with breast cancer on November 3, 1995. Despite all her achievements, Kent’s starting salary straight out of college was higher than the salary his mother ever made as a school teacher. Kent’s life goal is to establish The Judy Milholland School, a private, non-secular school that will address the problems of our failing public school system and find a way to pay teachers what they deserve. If anybody can find the “source code” to change the world, we’re pretty sure it will be Kent!