From the classroom to the boardroom

GVL / Courtesy - Mary DeYoung 
CEO Carl Erickson of Atomic Object

GVL / Courtesy – Mary DeYoung CEO Carl Erickson of Atomic Object

Drew Schertzer

Carl Erickson was a professor at Grand Valley State University for 10 years. He taught upper-level systems courses and graduate programs in computer science and engineering. However, Erickson felt the need to move into the business world.

“I am always interested in new challenges,” Erickson said. “I felt uncomfortable with the hypocrisy of teaching students about things I hadn’t done myself.”

Erickson dabbled in writing programs at a startup with a former student of his at the company Deltamode before it went out of business. He then met up with Bill Bereza, a GVSU graduate student who had graduated a year before Erickson had taken his leave of absence from teaching. Bereza was working on the East coast, but Erickson said he convinced him to come back to Michigan. 

Erickson said he wanted to go back to teaching after Deltamode failed but that he instead did a 180-degree pivot and began his work with Bereza. Then the two partners co-founded Atomic Object in Grand Rapids on Wealthy Street. Erickson now works solely as the CEO but admits the journey wasn’t an easy one.

“The first challenge was that I didn’t know anything about business,” he said. “It was creating order from chaos as I learned about operating and setting up a business, along with who to hire.”

Atomic Object today helps design and develop software for companies. The work they do has involved creating more than 250 apps for almost 200 clients, like Grand Rapids-based Steelcase. Their clients range from startups to Fortune 500 companies, Erickson said. 

He has enjoyed the economic success Atomic Object has had and said he has loved every minute of it. He now looks toward the future of the company.

“Now that I’m not running on a day-to-day schedule, I am freed up to look at Atomic Object’s 100-year vision,” Erickson said.

With so much on Erickson’s plate, he still remembers his roots. He said his company often employs GVSU students. Erickson also said he supports the GVSU community and businesses associated with it. He couldn’t express his gratitude enough for the university and even supplied funds to help the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons’ technology showcase years ago.

Erickson’s success has inspired GVSU student Christian Carroll, who hopes to one day run a business himself in the Grand Rapids area.

“Great people keep the city of Grand Rapids and GVSU going,” Carroll said. “I’m downtown for classes frequently, and looking up at those big buildings, I know I could one day own one myself.”

Carroll said he knows the road will be tough but sees Atomic Object’s success as motivation.

Atomic Object has already expanded and has a second office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For the last four years, the company has battled with the challenges of changing and adapting their model to work in two locations, Erickson said.

“We are making it work for two places and why not more?” he said. “It is inevitable that Atomic Object will bring goodness to other cities as well.”