As Seen in Forbes & Fortune:
In the Spirit of Service and Self-Reliance
Spirit Electronics is making dynamic moves in the semiconductor industry with innovative ways of delivering products and services to its aerospace and defense clients.
Each year, semiconductor technology advances toward a razor’s edge—quite literally—as more data is packed into fewer nanometers of space. Meanwhile, a tense geopolitical climate is raising the stakes around access to, and application of, this essential technology.
Within this milieu, Spirit Electronics upholds a mission more critical than ever: to help the United States military maintain superiority as it keeps pace with these technological advances. A certified veteran-owned, woman-owned, and value-added distributor of electronic components, Spirit Electronics has redefined the way semiconductor products and services reach customers, thanks in large part to the bold leadership of owner and CEO Marti McCurdy. “I am a problem-solver by nature,” says McCurdy, a veteran of the United States Air Force. “Some people talk about a Plan B. My Plan B is making Plan A work.”
Customized Technology for the Long Haul
Both the commercial and military sectors rely heavily on semiconductor chips—but their approach to implementing them couldn’t be more different. A constant demand for faster electronics sets the breakneck pace of technological advances in the commercial sector, while the military prefers technology that will sustain fleets and weaponry in the long run. The commercial sector regularly orders billions of semiconductor chips; the military orders small quantities as needed, but require high-reliability products.
This puts the military on the lagging edge of technology, forcing it to requalify the existing parts of aircraft systems like the F35 radar systems and B-2 bombers. Yet that pain point is where Spirit Electronics excels. Among the company’s services is the testing and requalification of semiconductor chips used in aerospace and military applications. “We calculate what we have to do to simulate a five-year mission life, for example,” says McCurdy. “By forcing temperature, environment, and acceleration, we can requalify products in less time and for less money than it would take the military to do independently.” Airtight security is another benefit: As a contained facility, Spirit Electronics exercises product care, custody, and control from beginning to end, ensuring far less risk of corruption and handling and traceability issues.
Spirit Electronics also creates customized application-specific integrated circuits, or ASICs, which are chips that contain patterns of connections dictating a specific function. In the military sector, ASICs guide satellites throughout their orbit mission and direct fighter jets to self-drive on runways. Spirit Electronics designs these chips from scratch, in small quantities, specifically for its aerospace and defense customers. “Think of ASICs like custom-designed jewelry,” says McCurdy. “At Spirit Electronics, we cut the stones, solder the gold, assemble the pieces, sew the velvet packaging—every step in making a specific, unique product that no one else has.”
Smashing the Mold
McCurdy’s path to entrepreneurial success began in a small Amish community in rural Pennsylvania. Although her family was not Amish, they emulated the resiliency of their neighbors, who deemed any problem solvable with the right tools and mindset. Mechanically inclined, technically savvy, and accustomed to working hard, McCurdy gives all the credit to her parents, who taught her these life lessons that have paved the way for her success today.
After serving as an engineer in the United States Air Force, McCurdy ran a few successful businesses before her eye fell on a chip distributor for sale in Arizona. The company was in the red, but McCurdy saw an opportunity to rebuild it—by smashing the distribution mold. Instead of siloing services, as was the industry standard, she added five new ones—including an ASIC design team—for a total of six services under one roof, all of them focused on the unique requirements endemic to the aero- space and defense industries. It was a bold move, but one McCurdy felt could alleviate the supply chain woes she had experienced while serving in the military—and she was right. Within a few years the company had doubled in size, expanded its warehouse space, and turned a sizable profit.
Self-reliance and the instinct to build something new in place of what’s mediocre, inform McCurdy’s leadership style. “Our approach of doing things quicker, better, and faster has always been my direction,” she says. In June of 2023, for example, Spirit Electronics bought a failure analysis lab in Colorado Springs. The sale was motivated by McCurdy’s frustration with the time it was taking to outsource a process called “destructive physical analysis.”
“We were sitting on a couple million dollars in parts,” she recalls. “So, I said, ‘Let’s find out who’s for sale and acquire them so that we can have this capability ourselves.’” As a leader, she’s empowered her team to think and act boldly, too. “The Spirit team is pretty phenomenal,” she says. “I could turn the company over to them and it would continue to grow. They dove into the deep end with me and are now excellent swimmers,” McCurdy says of the team’s talent.
Looking Ahead—And Upward
With ever-increasing revenue numbers and industry-wide recognition, it’s no wonder Spirit Electronics was named Phoenix’s second fastest-growing private company by the Phoenix Business Journal. Instead of resting on its laurels, the company is expanding its custom-designed ASICs capabilities—from just a handful of chips per year to 20—by hiring heavy-hitter designers from Silicon Valley and quadrupling the company’s footprint. There are also plans for more acquisition opportunities in Arizona—a hotbed of semiconductor manufacturing—as Spirit seeks to increase its assembly and testing capabilities.
McCurdy’s vision doesn’t stop there. She is hopeful that today’s technology-fluent youth will discover limitless opportunities in her industry. “I want young people coming out of school to know that this type of work is sexy and fun,” she says. Those bright futures inspire the Spirit Electronics’ commitment to sustainability—from permaculture practices in its garden, to energy-efficient offices, all the way to their customized ASICs directing satellites that monitor glaciers and ocean temperatures. “I have high hopes for teens and 20-somethings,” she says. “Their line in the sand of where their imaginings go is so much further than where mine was.”