Matt Beenen '09 earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Union College before becoming a product design engineer and founder of BuiltRight Industries. After spending a number of years leading another business in the automotive parts industry – and equipped with one invention he knew had potential – he decided to start his own company. In 2017, he was operating out of his home garage. Today, BuiltRight has more than 70 unique products, serves tens of thousands of customers a year and is preparing to build a new 20,000-square-foot engineering and manufacturing facility.
Previously an intern with Polaris Industries, Matt was also a systems engineer for BAE Systems early in his career. He received the 2010 BAE Chairman’s Award for work in human/robot collaboration; the 2015 SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) 35 under 35 award; and was the 2018 SEMA Launch Pad Business Competition Winner. Matt was also the 2019 SEMA Young Executive of the Year. His bedside rack system (patent-pending) was named runner-up for 2019 Best New Product. In 2020, he was elected to the SEMA Leadership Council.
He considers himself “both fortunate and cursed that my hobbies continue to turn into career opportunities.” Those hobbies have always centered on cars and trucks. He looks forward to restoring his first car (a 2006 Subaru STI), which has been under a cover for the last five years while he focused on his career and business.
He and his wife, Meredith Brandon Beenen ’09, are active in their Connecticut community. During the pandemic, they have used BuiltRight’s five 3D printers to manufacture more than 3,000 protective face shields which were distributed to local hospitals, service organizations and healthcare workers.
What are/were the most challenging aspects of your career? What are/were the most rewarding?
Challenges and rewards are often closely related! In every role, I’ve had the opportunity to understand and influence many or all aspects of a project or business. This is something that I really enjoy. The result, however, is that whether it’s time or energy, I often run out of bandwidth. As BuiltRight Industries has grown, the biggest challenge I face is that I can’t work any harder than I do (and still have a life I love with my wife and daughter). So I need to be extremely careful with how I use my time and focus. The result is a critical need to identify and develop a killer team. Doing so has been the most rewarding part of my career.
In summer 2020, Matthew Jones ’21 worked closely with me as a full-time paid engineering intern. Of course, there was the additional challenge of safely working during the pandemic. Even so, it was immediately obvious that “Matty” was a well-rounded engineer with great work ethic. Most importantly, he was someone I could trust. He’s the kind of person I want on my team and we’re both excited that he’ll be starting as a full-time mechanical engineer after graduation in 2021. Investing in people and developing their skills is a big win for everybody.
How has your engineering degree been useful in another field?
I have stayed close to the engineering field and know that the problem-solving and analytical thinking is helpful in many of the business, marketing and communications aspects of my career.
What was your most formative experience at Union?
The Baja SAE college competition, where students are challenged to design and build an off-road race car, was absolutely critical in shaping my experience. Getting a completed vehicle to competition required that our group properly manage teamwork, design, fabrication and marketing with limited time and resources. Each year when we arrived at the competition, it was evident that many college teams had far more support and resources. That made our great performance all the more satisfying.
Baja also contributed to what was my most formative experience at Union. Registering for the 2009 competition was the topic of an email exchange with my dad on an October morning during my senior year. That was our last communication. Later that morning, my dad unexpectedly collapsed and died at JFK airport. My father had attended the competition in Florida the year before and was looking forward to seeing us compete again. My Union friends saw me through that terrible loss and the Baja program become a way for me to stay busy and focus my energy. That year, we finished in 15th place out of 100 schools at competition in Oregon – a best ever for Union College Racing.
What’s the best piece of advice (professional or personal) you ever received?
“That’s good, keep going” is how I’ve shortened a bit of advice that my mom (also a mechanical engineer) taught me early on. I know it doesn’t sound like precision engineering, but my mom always encouraged me not to insist on perfection or total confidence before moving forward. This advice has helped me jump out of my comfort zone, weigh risk and reward and manage competing priorities, knowing that doing those things well often leads to success more quickly and with fewer resources.