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College project becomes career for Keystone Fellow Patrick Acker

June 15, 2016

Ackers, a recent Virginia Tech graduate, is an investor and co-founder of Yard Mapper, a software system that tracks trailers and shipping containers. The technology, which grew out of a college design project, saves manufacturers time and money.

Patrick Acker pictured in front of a brick wall.
Recent alumnus and Keystone Fellow Patrick Acker describes his new endeavor as "taking hold of an opportunity and going at it as hard as you can."

Recent Virginia Tech graduate Patrick Acker is tackling a new role: entrepreneur.

What started as a capstone design project has become a full-time endeavor for Acker, who graduated in May with a degree in industrial and systems engineering in the College of Engineering and a minor in business in the Pamplin College of Business.

Acker and his business partner, David Evans, of Groton, Massachusetts, a senior majoring in electrical engineering in the College of Engineering, are the inventors and company co-founders of Yard Mapper, a software system that tracks trailers and shipping containers at distribution centers, streamlining the process and saving manufacturers time and money. The system does not require extensive infrastructure and can be installed in a matter of hours. The first test system was installed at Frito Lay in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Since then, it has been a whirlwind of activity for Acker and Evans. They made five pitches this spring to businesspeople and subject matter experts. At the Virginia Tech KnowledgeWorks Global Entrepreneurship Challenge Semifinals they won the People’s Choice award and $5,000 in scholarships. They also won the inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) InVenture Prize at Virginia Tech and advanced to the final ACC InVenture Prize competition in Atlanta.

Acker, who started the nonprofit Cyling4aCure to raise money for cancer while he was a student, said that like his nonprofit Yard Mapper is a leap of faith. But he approaches both endeavors the same way.

"It is taking hold of an opportunity and going at it as hard as you can," he said.  

Acker is still getting used to his new role. “In early-stage entrepreneurship, there are no grades or performance reviews to tell you how you are doing," he said. "You learn to assess yourself and celebrate your successes. You have to work long hours, but it doesn’t feel like work. If you love what you do, you are motivated and it becomes obsessive.”

In April, Acker was inducted as one of 15 Keystone Fellows, a designation that honors students who are creating their unique Keystone Experience by understanding their strengths and goals in the context of service to others and by living the Aspirations for Student Learning. Profiles of each of the 2016 Keystone Fellows are available online.

“I saw the prospect of being a Keystone Fellow as an opportunity to be part of a passionate group of people who push themselves to be better,” Acker said. “It is also a chance for me to mentor younger students and give back what I can to my peers.”

The Keystone Experience is a Division of Student Affairs initiative that provides students with a framework to reflect upon their values, be intentional about their personal development, and realize their unique potential. It recognizes that learning happens everywhere, both in and out of the classroom, often in the day-to-day lives of Virginia Tech students.

Acker cites the skills he gained through Cycling4aCure and his participation in the Freshman Leadership Experience as pivotal moments during his time at Virginia Tech. He utilized his own Keystone Experience to reflect on the impact of his involvement in shaping his future and he encouraged students to do the same. “Don’t be afraid of failure. That’s where you learn the most,” Acker said. “Pursue your Keystone Experience by, first, finding what you love to do and, second, building a mentorship network. The two combined can bring out the best in you.”

In a recent speech to eighth-grade students in his hometown of Midlothian, Virginia, Acker summed up his philosophy. “Believe in yourself,” he said. “Look at life as an opportunity rather than a challenge. Don’t worry about reaching your limit. When you are passionate about something, the energy will come. Stop talking and start doing. Take the leap.” 

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