UMBC alumni businesses are doing what they can to stay strong and build community during these troubled times. UMBC Magazine will be publishing occasional interviews with alumni business owners to show their resilience in the face of this global pandemic.
Find more alumni businesses at the UMBC Alumni Business Directory.
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Founded by alumnus Zhensen Huang, M.S. ’00, Ph.D. ’04, information systems, Precise Software Solutions “helps their customers capitalize on the efficiencies offered by technological advancements and ensures the integrity of their IT systems and programs so they can perform their public mission more effectively.” Today, Huang reflects on the challenges of the last few months, and why he continues to be filled with gratitude and hope.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do? What’s your favorite part of the work?
My background is in IT/technology, and this is my first time serving as the CEO of a company. So, the experience of starting up and leading a new company has involved a big learning curve for me. But I love learning and finding solutions to complex problems, and there have been endless opportunities for me to learn and grow along with the company. As for my favorite part, I love working with people. I have been blessed with an amazing team of extremely smart, dedicated, and innovative people. I also love working with our growing customer base, which has included developing productive, trusting relationships, serving as a problem solver in helping them achieve their mission, and driving organic growth for the company with the help of the successes and accolades of our customers.
How do you connect your work back to your experience at UMBC?
I am eternally grateful for the excellent education, support, and mentorship I received as a UMBC student, and I attribute much of my success in my career and this Precise business venture to the solid launch I achieved with the help of the school. I went back to teach some courses at UMBC, and I remain in regular contact with the school through the Development Office. I continue to look for ways to reinforce the connection between myself, Precise, and UMBC, ensuring that the mutual benefits we’ve enjoyed are nurtured and expanded.
Precise also has several alumni on staff, including Kaustav Lahiri, M.S. ’14, computer science; Fan Ping, M.S. ’15, computer science; and Edison Trickett ’13, business technology administration.
In these tough times, how do you keep going? What inspires you?
It’s true, we’ve been experiencing some very tough times. The pandemic has been a real test to our resilience, as individuals, as a community, and as a company. It has been difficult to witness the terrible suffering that the virus has caused, not to mention the more recent unrest following the killing of George Floyd. In the midst of these crises, my overwhelming feeling has been one of gratitude—for the health and safety of my family and the ability of Precise to continue our work. These feelings of gratitude have inspired in me a great sense of responsibility. I am constantly looking for ways to give back, to offer support and assistance to those who have not been as fortunate as I have been.
Are there specific ways you’re giving back to the community right now?
In general, our company has actively engaged in community service events. We regularly organize company service events such as coordinating groups of Precise employee volunteers to support the work of the Manna Food Center, an wonderful organization that collects, purchases, and distributes food to the needy in our community. More recently, at the outset of the coronavirus epidemic, Precise organized a donation challenge in which we raised over $22,000 dollars for Manna. We also purchase company gift cards from some of our local food vendors as a way to infuse some cash flow into their businesses which were suffering huge losses due to the lockdown.
As part of our response to the protests following the killing of George Floyd, Precise organized internal discussions and listening sessions to ensure we are identifying and addressing any racial inequities that may exist within the company. In addition to donating $20,000 to the ACLU in support of social justice in our community and across the country, we also gave to UMBC’s Stay Black and Gold Emergency Fund. Supporting UMBC students during this time seemed to be a logical step, to help these students stay on track for their academic careers.
What advice would you give to others looking to start their own business?
I recommend following one’s passion, as that is the surest way to develop and sustain inspiration and resilience in what is a very difficult endeavor. Seek out mentors who have blazed the trail before you. I am constantly seeking out guides to help me navigate this business terrain. Again, this is my first experience building a business and being a CEO, so I am painfully aware of how much I still don’t know and need to learn. I have had many generous people who have more experience in this domain who have been willing to offer useful advice and guidance as I’ve worked to grow the company.
Another piece of advice I would offer is to practice humility and always work to keep your ego in check. You can’t learn and grow—and can’t succeed in business or any professional endeavor—if you don’t actively seek out your blind spots.
Header image: Zhensen Huang and Julia Zhuhui Chen, M.S. ’02, information systems, at an SBA (Small Business Administration) event in 2019. Photo courtesy of Chen.