Harris Romanoff: A Passion For Order
Harris Romanoff's office at work is tidy and uncluttered. That is what you would expect from a 1999 Penn Engineering graduate who is the EVP of Engineering at a company that helps people get organized. NeatReceipts, and its outgrowth, NeatDesk, is a scanner and digital-filing system that assists people, especially small-business owners, in achieving the often impossible goal of clearing their desks.
But Romanoff's home workshop is messy, the embodiment of his creative mind. "I like a lot of things out so I can see them," he says. It is here that Romanoff salvages parts from discarded consumer electronic products, like an old inkjet printer or DVD player, and transforms them into something new.
A lifelong practitioner of disassembling and reassembling, Romanoff began at Penn as a pre-med student, but found himself stimulated by conversations with engineering majors. In a likely next step, he switched to majoring in bioengineering, and then transitioned to electrical engineering because he felt it was where he could combine and express his three passions: creativity, engineering and human interaction. Working at the GRASP Lab in robotics as an undergraduate helped Romanoff sharpen his focus.
As an undergraduate, Romanoff also started a business to provide unique lighting for the numerous dot-com launch events of the late 90s. His equipment was made from the flotsam and jetsam of college life, including discarded fans left on campus when students left for the summer and empty beer cans. "It was a great entrepreneurial experience," he recalls, which provided his first real taste of product development.
In 2003, just as he was about to take a software job on Wall Street, Romanoff was hired as a software engineer by the fledgling Neat Company. It took him two years to develop the original NeatReceipts software algorithms, which automatically read the important fields from documents. "It was exciting, but scary," he says. "We had no money and no sales channels." Neat Company will next debut an online version of the company's desktop scanner-software product.
Romanoff continues to build his knowledge base, pursuing a master's degree in Integrated Product Design at Penn Engineering. He takes one or two courses each semester, and will complete the program in two years. Romanoff brings technology expertise and an on-the-job business background to the program. "I want to formalize what I have learned on the job," he says.
"I know our product is just a paper scanner and some software," says Romanoff. "We are not saving the world or curing cancer." But when he hears from grateful customers, he realizes his work is indeed valuable. For instance, a man whose business was washed away in Hurricane Katrina was reimbursed by his insurance company only because NeatReceipts could provide a copy of his receipts.
At this point in his career, Romanoff is humbled by the prospect of winning the Young Alumni Award of Merit. "It is gratifying to think my work is viewed so positively. The award is a nice nod that I'm doing things right."
View the full article in Penn Engineering Magazine: "Harris Romanoff: A Passion For Order" by Janet Falon.