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SCN Hall of Fame 2020: Paul Harris

Some people were born to be engineers. Some people were born to lead businesses. Paul Harris was born to do both.

Paul Harris, Aurora Multimedia

Growing up in Staten Island, NY, Harris got hooked on technology from a young age. At nine years old, he was programming games on his Commodore VIC-20 personal computer; by 13, he had created a circuit board. “Some people are born baseball players and basketball players, and I guess electronics and technology came easy to me,” Harris said.

Around the age of 16, Harris invented a method for digitally printing custom t-shirts using a camera, computer and capture card, and a Xerox printer with subliminal dye ink. Sensing commercial potential in this, he founded his first company, DigiTrans. “I started off doing it at events and fairs,” he said. “Here I am, this teenage kid with a computer, a graphics card, the right paper and press machine, and I’m making t-shirts with people’s images on it. It was not only my first lesson on how to own a business, it was my first lesson on what commodity means.”

He ended up selling the company midway through his time at DeVry University, where he studied electronic engineering, and put his entrepreneurial pursuits on the back burner for a few years. Shifting his focus solely to engineering after graduation, he found a job in the audiovisual industry working for a company that designed video walls. From there, he made his way to Mountainside, NJ-based integrator Verrex, where he worked for two and a half years as a control system programmer.

“[Working there] had a very large influence on how I conducted myself and how I built up my company going forward,” he said. “I got to understand the needs of the end users, and I got to understand the industry as a whole. It became a guideline to what products I wanted to build later on.”

In 1997, he left Verrex to start Aurora Multimedia, which opened its doors in 1998. Initially, the company was just doing AMX and Crestron control system programming for other integrators. “We were basically writing code for very large projects for all the large integrators in the Northeast,” he said. “We were doing tons and tons of work.” And in that work, he discovered a market need for small-room control systems. Around 2001, Harris created the WACI—or Web Accessible Control Interface—based on web standards and languages, and Aurora began its journey as a manufacturer.

Along the way, he invented numerous products that were the first of their kind, including a device that used PoE to power HDBaseT, and a device that enabled real-time multi-image rotation, so video walls could run in portrait mode. “We patented the original concepts for that; that was one of our great inventions,” he said. “I’m proud to say that a lot of these things, some of them big, some of them little, originated from our company.”

Now, Aurora has grown into one of the most recognizable brands in the industry. From its facility in Morganville, NJ, its team does the majority of assembly work on its products, which ship around the world—and Harris is not even close to finished innovating. “I really like working on things that no one’s done yet, he said. “That’s the type of engineering that I like. I want to do something different. I want to rock people’s worlds.”

READ MORE: SCN Hall of Fame 2020