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UW Crest with engineering background
October 31, 2022

Zak Koga: 2022 Early Career Award recipient

Written By: Staff

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Zak Koga

Zak Koga BSCEE ‘08
Co-founder, Karben4 Brewing

We are honoring Zak as a civil engineer and entrepreneur who leveraged passion, business acumen and project management skills to found and grow a full-scale brewery in Madison.

How did you choose to attend UW-Madison?

My freshman year I attended the University of Iowa on a baseball scholarship. It was a tumultuous year caused by a coaching change, and on my drive home, my dad and I stopped at UW just to see if anyone was in the office. We went to the Red Gym and then to Engineering Hall where we met Ann Morris. I could not believe we actually got to talk to someone during our impromptu stop, and we talked to someone as awesome as Ann. Even though I was late and did not know what I was doing with my baseball career, she made me feel welcome, and she made it possible to get accepted right into the College of Engineering. It was a very difficult decision to end my formal baseball dreams, but I would not change anything about it.

How did your experience in the College of Engineering shape your career path?

Professor Jeff Russell encouraged me to be well-rounded, be a business thinker, be social, etc. I also formed a fairly close relationship with Professor Awad Hanna, who chaired CEM. Working closely with these great professors (among many others) was a great blessing in my life! I felt connected to my school and education. I felt like I could call a half-dozen companies and have a job immediately, and I knew I was prepared to add value to those companies. I had already been working in the industry for three-plus years and reinforced those experiences in my coursework. This all gave me great confidence (maybe too much) and I hit the ground running at Findorff after graduating. Since then, in founding Karben4, I have continued to lean on my engineering education—both in technical situations and interpersonal situations.

Which advice would you give students today?

Stick with it! Engineering is one of the few degrees that is and will continue to be very worth obtaining. Engineering students (particularly CEM) also need to pay close attention to labor shortage issues. The construction industry has been bracing for a shortage in skilled labor for a long time and that seems to be accelerating. Get educated on labor relations and get invested in training and developing the trades.

Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?

Being named Honorary Commander of the 176th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron might top the list. A regret in my life is not serving our country in the military, and being connected with these F-16 pilots (and the entire 115th Fighter Wing) has been a great honor.

Who has played the greatest role in your achievements?

To Him be the glory! But for the grace of God I would be anything at all. He has blessed me endlessly with great parents, family and friends, coaches, and being born in this great country.

How do you spend your free time?

I have a beautiful wife and four incredible daughters. All of these girls dominate most of my time away from work. I also like to work out, I love the Packers and Badgers, and I like to get on the golf course with my buddies when I can.