SCHENECTADY — John Ciovacco was never your typical chief executive.
The former CEO and co-founder of Cyclics Corp., a plastics manufacturer based in Schenectady, is back where he started his business career: on his own.
“I'm sort of in between things,” Ciovacco told a group of economics and mechanical engineering students Thursday at Union College in Schenectady. “I could use a little break.”
His audience is part of a special entrepreneurship course in which economics and engineering students work together to make a business plan for commercializing technology.
They get help on their projects from the U-Start Incubator, which supports the entrepreneurial process and is affiliated with the college, and are required to enter Union's annual business plan competition, which will be staged on Tuesday.
Harold Fried, a professor of economics at Union who runs the seminar along with Ronald Bucinell, chairman of the mechanical engineering department, said it helps engineers and business students come together as they would in the corporate world to work on product development, technology and marketing.
Ciovacco, a 1987 Union graduate, was brought in to talk about his experiences as an entrepreneur.
He took a circuitous route into the plastics business, although an interest in composite materials dates back to his college days. Originally from Atlanta, Ciovacco came to Union to play hockey, but ended up founding the school's first rowing team, which he also coached.
“That was a very entrepreneurial experience,” he said. “It was a terrific experience.”
Ciovacco co-founded Cyclics in 1999 with another Union grad, Ted Eveleth. They created the company by purchasing a series of patents and technologies from General Electric Co. and later built a $35 million manufacturing facility in Germany. The headquarters remains in Schenectady.
Ciovacco served as chief executive of the company until 2004, when Eveleth took the post. Eveleth was replaced by former Black & Decker executive Glenn Decker in 2005. Both Ciovacco and Eveleth left the company's board last spring as part of a management restructuring at Cyclics.
Although Ciovacco is still a shareholder in the company, he no longer has operational ties. These days, he's doing business consulting — which he used to do before he started Cyclics. One client is X-Ray Optical Systems Inc. in East Greenbush, which makes technology used in machines that analyze materials such as sulfur in petroleum fuels.
Ciovacco says he likes consulting, and it gives him an opportunity to spend more time with his family.
“I am a recovering entrepreneur right now,” he said.
Students who attended the talk said they were impressed with Ciovacco, who gave a lot of interesting details about his life, including working as a self-defense instructor in Boston, where he also was the Boston College crew coach and a business consultant.
“Hearing from him, the difficulties he faced, the roles he took, it just shows you can come from anywhere and be anything,” said Rich Modliszewski, a junior economics major.