Katie Rofkar makes mark with Downtown tech firmWritten by Brandi Barhite | Associate Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Katie Rofkar has been better at forecasting the weather than her career path.
The on-air weather forecaster turned teacher turned school administrator is now the CEO of Nemsys, a technology support firm in the Warehouse District.
“I would have never ever predicted that this is where I would be,” the 32-year-old said.
But her path toward becoming a female leader in a male-dominated industry is more natural than it would seem.
“I went to school for meteorology; that is where it started, but I have a background in technology through that,” she said.
In December, her company relocated from 321 Perry St., near Fifth Third Field, to the former home of the Toledo Police Department’s mounted patrol unit at 122 South St. Clair St.
“I was one of those people while growing up here who was like, ‘I am going to leave,’” Rofkar said. “I went to Arizona — as far away as I could possibly get — but as an adult, I really realized that there was a lot to offer here in Toledo. That is why I decided to stay and build the business here.”
When Nemsys changed its business model, Rofkar knew a new location (with ample parking) would be necessary. With the move, the space went from 1,500 square feet to 7,000.
“We have always provided support and we have always sold [customers] technology, but it was their decision on when to get it,” she said. “We decided to bring the three pieces together. So we now have technology, support and training for one flat fee per month. If you become our client, we give you a computer every three years.”
This is important because after three years, computers have a 40 percent increase in downtime. This downtime equals 4.7 percent per computer, which adds up to one work day per month, she said.
Her other focus is training. Rofkar said employees aren’t trained on the many functions — and time-saving methods — available in their software.
“We know a lot about technology and how people use technology,” Rofkar said. “We can see the downfalls. We know these stats are true — after three years, computers have problems.”
After Rofkar attended the University of Arizona and then graduated from the Ohio State University in 2002, her problem was finding a job.
“When I came back, the only real job I could do was be on air. We don’t have chief meteorologists who leave very frequently. I still had a passion for it, but I really liked education. I went into education and got my master’s.”
She taught science at Washington Local Schools, her alma mater, and then moved to Erie-Mason where she became a curriculum and information technology director. During that time she started sharing weather duties with another meteorologist at FOX Toledo. She was Katie Miller then.
“It was kind of interesting because I would go to school and I had seventh graders at the time and they were like, ‘Miss Miller, you did so well on TV. You didn’t screw up.’ Or they were like, ‘Man. you were wrong.’”
Since she was teaching science, part of the curriculum was meteorology and her class would help forecast for that evening’s shows.
“It became very taxing when it was spring,” Rofkar said. “I would have to go into the station at 2 in the morning because we had a thunderstorm warning or a tornado warning. Then I had to be at school at 7:30. I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”
Rofkar said the on-air job was fun and she loved it, but she didn’t want to leave the Toledo area. To advance she would have had to move to a city that needed a chief meteorologist.
When she got married, she quit television and focused on her job at Erie-Mason. However, when she was pregnant, Erie-Mason was facing budgetary concerns, and Rofkar would be laid off or have to return to teaching.
“I decided, perfect out, I am pregnant.”
She was in a Dale Carnegie course when she announced she needed an IT guy to help with the transition at Erie-Mason. Two Nemsys employees responded.
“I know what it is like to be on the other side and what their commitment is,” she said.
Soon founders Drew McCallum and Matt Nachtrab asked about her plans post-Erie-Mason.
She said, “I am pregnant and that is the least of my worries.”
They suggested she work in sales.
“But I don’t know anything about sales. I am a meteorologist for God’s sakes,” she remembered telling them.
She took the job, though, and when McCallum and Nachtrab decided to move to Florida because they had received an investment for Nemsys’ software LabTech, they made her CEO and a partner.
“We brought her in to run sales. Over time, she took over marketing,” Nachtrab said. “As she was doing those functions, we saw she had operational strength. She didn’t have a lot of financial experience, but I knew she could learn that over time. She had the ability to look at a company and figure out how to make it operate leaner, more profitably.”
Rofkar is unique in many ways. She is a female CEO. She is only 32. She is the leader of a technology firm.
She credits her dad, Dan Miller, for developing her interest in a male-dominated subject.
“My dad and I really liked the weather. We would watch the weather. I grew up in Shoreland, and the boaters are the meteorologists. They know what to do; they don’t have to watch the television.”
Her dad said he used to work until 4 a.m. and he would wake up Rofkar and her sister to watch the falling meteors.
“It was neat to watch her on television,” Miller said. “She wanted to be a storm chaser and she got into television because she went down to audition for The Face of FOX (Toledo) and when they found out she was a meteorologist, they hired her for that.”
Even though she isn’t on TV anymore, Rofkar said studying meteorology made her computer savvy because so much of forecasting weather involves technology.
One of Nemsys’ advantages is using technology to fix technology, which is actually not as common as it would seem, according to CFO Blake Underwood.
“Our guys are tech guys; they don’t like to be on the phone,” Underwood said. “They like to solve problems before they become issues. We do corrective maintenance before our clients even realize there is a problem.”
Nemsys’ newest product Connect has three components: the latest technology, local 24/7 support and technical training.
“We want to be that insurance for our business,” Rofkar said. “We don’t want our clients calling us to complain about technology. We want them to call us and say, ‘Hey, we are moving; we want to do bigger and better things.’”
Underwood said when Nemsys brings in clients, they become part of the network and whenever a problem is detected, the solution is pushed network-wide.
Rofkar said many IT companies offer the break-fix method of “You are broken, you call us.”
“You can make a lot of money doing that, but the only problem is it isn’t a long-term solution that helps the business,” she said. “We are all entrepreneurs here within Nemsys and we want to create solutions that help them use their technology in a productive way.”
Ken Wood, president of Martin + Wood Appraisal Group, is a local client.
“As a small business owner, I like the fact that the Connect program from Nemsys offers one flat monthly fee for all of our hardware and computing needs while allowing us to have new equipment every three years,” Wood said in an email. “On a turnkey basis Nemsys takes care of our computer equipment and IT requirements so that we can focus on the other segments of our business.”
Wood said Nemsys is also responsive and offers employee computer education opportunities.
A recent session was “Tips and Tricks.” Another session showed clients how to print labels from their computers.
“We offer training that is customized for small businesses,” Underwood said. “They are one hour, they get lunch, too, and we make sure clients can master them in that time frame. The retention of the information is pretty strong.”
Rofkar said keeping Nemsys in Downtown Toledo was a deliberate decision.
“When we were looking for buildings, this was not the cheapest space. We could have gone out to the suburbs, but that wasn’t what was important and how we can help contribute back to the community.”
Rofkar said the new location was smelly and needed some work because it used to be a horse stable. The hay and water had seeped into the walls and all the studs and drywall had to be replaced.
“It had even infiltrated into the ceiling tiles,” she said.
Rofkar worked with the building’s owner, Dave Ball, to stay Downtown. The stalls for the horses were turned into an open room of work spaces. Hopefully, the pasture will eventually become a community garden as a way to give back, she said.
One way the company is already giving back is by participating in the Art Commission’s Art Walks.
“I think that it is great that they made a commitment for their business to remain Downtown. As a technology company, there is a great synergy between technology and art,” said Marc Folk, executive director of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. “They have done a great job in showing a social responsibility and showing an active role in supporting the arts.”
One day Rofkar would like Nemsys to be an anchor in the technology corridor that is already starting to develop in the Warehouse District with Seed Coworking, Whisper Labs and NORTH design.
“We want to build up those partnerships with these other groups so we can provide that complete technology solution,” she said.
Rofkar is about to make a move herself. She is relocating from Bedford to the Toledo area in time for her daughter, Mackenzie, to start school. This makes her latest forecast a sure thing: being in Toledo for a long time.