Jay Smith III
Class of 1962, BS
Jay Smith’s creative imagination never stops. More than 100 inventions are credited to the Virginia Tech engineering mechanics (EM) graduate, as well as the development of an additional four-dozen-plus video games. The entrepreneur holds 40 patents, most of which are related to the toy or game industry.
“I was always a gadget maker as a kid. I terrorized my mother by taking things apart. One time when I was trying to repair a thermostat to my car, I placed it in a pot on the kitchen stove to see if it would open in hot water. When Mom came home she was horrified. She told me car parts stayed outside and food stayed inside. She was a very proper southern lady,” he quips.
He illustrated his creative genius early on by winning science fairs. In eighth grade he won a prize for making a model of an automatic transmission using an erector set. The next year, his entry, a remote controlled toy car (unusual for the 1950s), won the grand prize at his state science fair. When he competed at a national level with the car, it was stolen, so the contest officials compensated him with a consolation award.
Today, Mr. Smith is the Chief Executive Officer of Play-It-Now, Inc., a Los Angeles-based media content company that develops and distributes games using the interactive technologies of cable and satellite television to provide in-home distribution. These easy-to-play games operate by using the remote control for the television.
He remains a kid at heart pursuing fun inventions, but when he was a young engineer, he started his career conventionally. After co-oping at David Taylor, a naval research and development center where he worked on propellers and acoustic sound systems of submarines, he graduated from Virginia Tech in 1962. He received his master’s degree in EM from California Institute of Technology in 1963. Although he interviewed with Mattel, a leading toy company, he decided at the time that the prudent choice was TRW: “How could I get this wonderful education and work with toys, I asked myself?”
But after a few years at TRW, Mattel knocked on his door again and asked if he might reconsider. “At the time, I was one of 100,000 people working on the space program. The move to Mattel meant I would become a bigger fish in a smaller pond. The toy industry provided me with more visibility and ways to contribute,” he says.
Before long, he and a small group from Mattel decided to take a different leap and start their own company, Innova. After a year, he moved on to become a founding partner of California R&D Center. He remained for five years and then established Smith Engineering, an entrepreneurial concept invention and licensing firm. Along with Smith Engineering, he founded Western Technologies, a successful developer of toys, entertainment software, and consumer products. Smith Engineering licensed Western’s products. His clients included Mattel, Milton Bradley and Nintendo.
After owning and operating both companies for 19 years, Wanderlust Interactive Inc. acquired Western and changed its name to Adrenalin Interactive, Inc. Mr. Smith was retained as its CEO of the now publicly-owned company, and was responsible for its merger into a larger firm. During his tenure at Adrenalin he received the prestigious Jumpstart Award from the Deloitte and Touche Technology Fast 50 program.
Adrenalin was sold in 2000, and Mr. Smith took a break from the fast track and served as a consultant to Water Network, a new digital TV channel for water sports and recreation. He remains a director and a major stockholder as he pursues his new role with Play-It-Now that he founded in 2001.
Mr. Smith is a member of the Toy Industry of America, the Board of Advisors of Santa Monica/UCLA Medical Center, the Santa Monica Rotary Club, and active in several Californian service and charitable organizations.
At Virginia Tech he is a member of the Committee of 100, has served on the College’s Advisory Board, and currently serves on the Task Force for the Institute for Critical Technologies and Applied Sciences at Virginia Tech.
Mr. Smith and his wife Susan live in Los Angeles. They have two grown children, Spencer and Stephanie.
Class of: 1962
Year Inducted into Academy: 2003