When Jeff Muti graduated from Duke in 1987, he knew he wanted a career beyond his time in the military, but he didn’t yet see himself as an entrepreneur.
Because he attended Duke on an ROTC scholarship, he spent the next four years in the Navy. Eventually, he would become the founder and CEO of Sigma Worldwide, a plastic manufacturing company.
After attending business school at Harvard, Muti did some consulting work, where he saw the impact that the recession had on the supply chain for products. This experience led him to found Sigma Worldwide about five years ago, with a plan to do things differently than other companies.
Muti’s company had to compete with both local manufacturers in China and sourcing operations led by companies in the U.S. and Europe, but they were able to do so successfully. They paired their knowledge of Western markets with a dose of humility – rather than investing in nice office spaces, they worked out of their homes to maintain low overhead costs.
Muti said the low overhead costs are a point of pride and described Sigma Worldwide as “scrappy” in its early years.
The company now has operations in the U.S. and Mexico as well as China, but the company still prioritizes low overhead costs. The team has grown from four employees to about 50, not counting workers in the factories.
One of the most important things an entrepreneur can do, Muti said, is to deliver a strong message. Because Muti was able to communicate his message clearly, customers gave him a chance.
Sigma Worldwide started its manufacturing with protective cases and carrying solutions for electronics, which included everything from smartphones to personal gaming devices. The company also makes cases for medical devices, such as insulin injectors, and has plans to focus more heavily on the market for baby products.
Muti said that often people think of technology when they hear the word entrepreneur. But he wants students to know that there is an opportunity to be a “nontraditional” entrepreneur.
“You don’t have to generate the next big app to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “You can still do something you’re proud of and make money other ways, and there’s opportunities to do that in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.”
Muti is also starting a nonprofit with Liz Murray, who has written a best-selling memoir about her journey from homelessness to becoming a Harvard graduate. The nonprofit will provide a full-time paid mentorship program for disadvantaged youth, and Muti is helping to raise money for a pilot program in New York next year.
To learn more about Sigma Worldwide, click here.
To read about more Duke entrepreneurs, click here.