Tech Spotlight: Brooks Zurn
Sunshine Labs provides a place for hardware makers to create their wares.
As the daughter of an electrical engineer growing up in a Vermont farm town, Brooks Zurn loved to tinker with things. Home-schooled with two younger sisters, she built model bridges, 3-foot-square play cabins and even a crude bicycle for two.
“I wanted things,” she says. “There were things you couldn’t buy, so I had to make them. I learned why bicycles-built-for-two have stiff frames. I learned from failure and trying it.”
Zurn, 35, who holds two electrical engineering degrees, saw a need in Central Florida for a place catering to craftsmen building specialized technical components. So in December 2013 she formed Sunshine Incubator in Cocoa Beach; later she relocated it to a nondescript Longwood warehouse and renamed the business Sunshine Labs. There, a handful of firms design computer components and circuit boards to complement software products in the area. Zurn provides rental offices and workbenches, as well as equipment such as a 3-D printer to custom-make component cases, a circuit board prototyping machine, and a laser cutter to make parts. She also runs an online tech parts distribution firm and works closely with an adjacent warehouse workshop called FamiLAB, where hobbyists use similar equipment and can take classes.
“There aren’t many people on the hardware side in Orlando,” says Zurn, who recently opened satellite locations in South Orlando and Melbourne. “That needs to change. You can only get so far with software.”
Zurn received validation in September when the U.S. Small Business Administration awarded Sunshine Labs a $50,000 grant to help fund its growth accelerator. Orlando’s Starter Studio also won a $50,000 award. Both incubators were among 50 entities picked from 800 applicants nationwide and will make quarterly reports to the government to help track job creation.
Zurn says she has found there are three important types of people essential to success in the tech field: business people, computer scientists and engineers. “What Canvs, Sunshine Labs, FamiLab and other community organizations provide is an opportunity for these three types of people to meet,’’ she says. “Meeting is the first step toward collaborating. Collaborating is the key to succeeding.’’
An employee of one of Zurn’s tenants is Ted Wahrburg, a former information technology specialist who holds three community college Associate of Arts degrees but dropped out of UCF in 2009. Now he helps fabricate custom circuit boards for an industrial X-ray firm. Circuit boards are the backbone of cell phones, computers, televisions and virtually every electronic device.
Before Sunshine Labs arrived, circuit board designs and components were shipped to contractors, who could take from a few days to a few weeks to make the product. Now, the 30-year-old Casselberry whiz can do it all in one day with Sunshine Labs’ equipment, drastically shortening the design and testing time.
“You don’t need a degree to be extremely useful,” says Wahrburg, a self-taught tech whiz who proudly shows off his boards and gadgets. “When people hear ‘tech,’ they think computers. My mother thinks I’m installing computers.”