Nick Barendt headshot

5 questions with… Nick Barendt, executive director of the Institute for Smart, Secure and Connected Systems

As a lifelong Clevelander, Nick Barendt is passionate about seeing the city grow and thrive. Now, as a part of Leadership Cleveland’s class of 2023, he and 64 leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors of Northeast Ohio will go through a 10-month program to explore challenges and opportunities facing the city and beyond. 

The goal of the Cleveland Leadership Center program? To inspire the leaders to use their newfound knowledge and connections to advance our region. Barendt will work alongside cohort members such as Laura Bloomberg, president of Cleveland State University; Michael Dylan Brennan, mayor of University Heights; Michelle Earley, administrative and presiding judge of Cleveland Municipal Court; and Lisa Petit, superintendent of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, to name a few. 

Barendt, the executive director of the Institute for Smart, Secure and Connected Systems (ISSACS) and co-executive director of the Internet of Things (IoT) Collaborative at the university, is enthusiastic about engaging with his peers on projects that move Cleveland—and the region—forward. 

“I am deeply committed to Cleveland,” said Barendt, a two-time CWRU alumnus. “When I graduated from the university, I had many offers outside of town, but I looked around and said, ‘The things I enjoy about Cleveland aren’t going to change.’

“Being able to have an impact in my role at my alma mater—and in my city—is important,” he continued. “It’s an unparalleled opportunity.”

In his role at the university, Barendt leads the strategic planning, funding attraction and operations for ISSACS and fosters IoT collaborations across the university—and with external partners—to fulfill the mission of the institute. 

Barendt, who’s held an interest in connected systems for decades, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the university in 1995 and 1998, respectively. Prior to joining ISSACS, he spent much of his career in industry, building products in robotics, industrial automation, test and measurement, and the Internet of Things, everywhere from Fortune 1000 companies to startups. Barendt has also been an adjunct member of the Department of Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering since 2012. 

Barendt said he’s looking forward to helping partners around Northeast Ohio connect with and navigate the university from the outside and work with them to support regional economic development. 

”If we look at Cleveland and compare it to other cities with similar institutional assets, I don’t think we’ve done as great a job as some others in harnessing our higher education institutions to help drive impact in the economy, residents’ lives, etc.,” he explained. “I’m passionate about that opportunity to see how I can do that with the Leadership Cleveland class and leaders of the university.” 

Get to know Barendt more in this week’s five questions. 

1. What are you listening to, watching or reading that you’d suggest others check out?

There’s a really excellent podcast called “Stacey on IoT“ that has a primary consumer focus on the smarthome—new devices, standards, etc.—but it also has components around what’s happening in the industrial internet of things.

But, critically, it’s not only focused on the technology; there’s deep conversations around things like digital civil liberties— what are the implications of smart speakers in your home or smart cameras in cities; what’s the regulatory framework? I find the newsletter and the podcast are really well done and insightful. 

Another thing I’m enjoying right now is a book called Choose to Lead by Jim Kubacki, who’s the recently retired president of St. Edward High School in Lakewood, who I met through my Leadership Cleveland interview. It is really interesting.

2. What is the most memorable life lesson you’ve learned?

Character matters. It’s an old concept, but the nature of my work is such that relationships and trust are key. We’re often working in this complicated space on campus, asking faculty to trust us and move outside of their disciplinary focus into this interdisciplinary space that’s a little bit larger. It’s also critical with our relationships within the region and the community, that when we commit to do something, we will deliver on it. 

3. Which Cleveland neighborhood is your favorite and why?

I love lots of Cleveland neighborhoods, but the Metroparks system is amazing, from Edgewater [Park] to the Emerald Necklace [Trail]. I live near the Rocky River Reservation, and we love it. It is such a gem, and [Metroparks leadership is] so innovative in so many things they do—not just the green space, but how they think about programming and everything else. 

4. What season is your favorite, and what do you like to do to celebrate it?

I like aspects of all seasons, but probably fall. Since before our kids were born, every year we go apple picking in Lorain County and go on hayrides—the full experience. Then we come home and make gobs of applesauce and apple pies and all of that. 

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

The opportunity to experience intellectual diversity and depth across all of the disciplines—from engineering, science, medicine and biology to law, the social sciences, and the humanities—makes conversations on campus fascinating. I’m always learning something.