Mixing Industrial Engineering and Entrepreneurship to Meet the Needs of E-commerce Retailers

Where Are They Now? Catching Up with an MHEFI Scholarship Recipient

When Eric Gilbert, founder of Excel3PL, switched from a mechanical engineering degree program at Oklahoma State University to an industrial engineering (IE) program, he was not thinking about the supply chain industry as a career. His mix of school, work and personal experiences not only led him to work in the supply chain industry, but also to form his own logistics company.

eric gilbert


“I chose industrial engineering because it addressed both the people and business sides of engineering,” said Gilbert. He also minored in entrepreneurship, which for him was a natural fit with IE. “While at OSU, I got to work in the New Product Development Center, which was part of the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, and worked on a manufacturing facility layout.” He then had a co-op position at a Walmart distribution center in Auburn, Alabama, where the company was implementing an AGV pilot program.

“Not long after I arrived, the employee overseeing the program left, and I was told to do the best I could,” said Gilbert. “I couldn’t believe I was a student with the responsibility of a $5 million program, but it was a great learning experience.”

His experience in material handling led Gilbert to apply for the MHEFI scholarship because he saw the industry as a good career opportunity. In addition to the MHEFI scholarship, Gilbert was also accepted as a W.W. Allen Scholars program member, which provided funds for school, networking opportunities, study abroad and full tuition and housing for a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge. He was the only American in the cohort, and because he married immediately after graduation, he was the only married student.

“I spent a year at Cambridge after graduating OSU to earn my master’s in industrial systems, manufacturing and management, then returned to Tulsa, where my wife had a job opportunity,” said Gilbert. “I went to work for Webco, a family-owned manufacturer and distributor of steel tubing, where I handled a number of data analytics roles in the product planning department,” he said.

As much as he enjoyed the job and learned from the owner of the company, his interest in entrepreneurship led him to create two different companies—an ice cream shop and an Amazon business. “When COVID resulted in the elimination of my job, my side hustle became my full-time job and I focused on the Amazon business,” said Gilbert.

The increase in online sales and demand for warehouse, packaging and delivery services resulted in Amazon changing some policies and requirements for e-commerce retailers, which presented another opportunity for Gilbert.

“I opened a 3PL company that can provide cost-effective services to e-commerce retailers too small to qualify for other 3PL services,” said Gilbert. His 2,000 square foot warehouse opened for operations in December 2020 and nine months later, he moved operations to a 15,000-square-foot facility. “We began by offering storage and shipping to Amazon fulfillment centers, but we’ve expanded to offer customer direct-to-consumer fulfillment as well,” he said. “We now have a staff of three full-time employees, including myself, two part-time employees and 65 clients. My next goal is to hit the $1 million annual revenue mark, and we are close to $600,000 now.”

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