Ryan Pratt, CEO of Guerrilla RF, is Greensboro Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- If you own an iPhone or an iPad, there’s a good chance there’s a microchip in your device Ryan Pratt helped design.

He’s a graduate of the Greensboro Dudley High School STEM Magnet Program and North Carolina State University. He’s also built his company to the point the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce named him its 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year.

Pratt founded his company, Guerrilla RF, in 2013. “Guerrilla,” like guerrilla warfare, represents a small company fighting against larger forces. “RF” stands for “radio frequencies” on which cellphones operate.

Guerrilla RF designs and makes microchips for wireless infrastructure.

“A big thing for me was I was into computers. I love computers,” Pratt told me recently during a visit to his facility. “I had a job out of high school doing computer networking support.”

Pratt’s first job out of NC State was at then-Greensboro tech behemoth RF Micro Devices. It’s a company his father, Bill Pratt, co-founded.

“My first job was what we call a circuit designer,” he said. “And that’s where we’re actually using software tools to design microchips.”

At the time, RF Micro Devices was pioneering and manufacturing a power amplifier chip. It takes energy from a cellphone’s battery, amplifies it and makes it strong enough to reach a cellphone tower.

After 8 years, Pratt moved to an RF Micro competitor, Skyworks Solutions, and helped launch a successful design center in Greensboro, only to get laid off after a company leadership change in 2013.

“It was very tough (getting laid off),” he said. “I mean you’ve built this team. I think just about every person in that building I’d personally recruited and brought on board.”

So, facing another career change, Pratt looked no further than the cellphone tower and the wireless infrastructure which hadn’t been and still isn’t keeping up with the number of wireless devices. It’s why your calls sometimes get dropped or your videos won’t play.

“And that was really, the opportunity,” he told me. “I saw that the technology wasn’t getting as updated nearly as quickly as the smartphone was.”

At his father’s urging, Pratt found the investors to help launch Guerrilla RF. Today, the company has more than 50 products in mass production. They include what’s called a “low noise amplifier chip.”

“It’s like a hearing aid that picks up that very faint, soft signal and cranks it up so that a cell tower can then process the signal,“ he said. “The key is making the cell tower able to handle more users. It’s not necessarily about having to build a whole bunch more (towers).”

Recently, Pratt secured $3.8 million more from investors. He hopes to use that money to boost his company’s number of products from 50 to between 80 and 100. He also expects to make Guerrilla RF profitable within the next year-and-a-half and boost his workforce to 25.

Bottom line: as 5G technology evolves in the telecommunications landscape over the next several years, Guerrilla RF will be very much involved.

To learn more about Guerrilla RF, click here.