Image Conscious

Ikelite Continues to Put a Focus on Excellence After Six Decades

Writer / Renee Larr
Photographer / Michael Durr

It all started with Ike. That’s the motto of the family-owned business Ike Brigham began in 1962, lovingly called Ikelite. BrighamIkelite was a natural-born entrepreneur. As such, he purchased a dive shop in downtown Indianapolis in the late 1950s, including all the inventory. Brigham was an avid scuba diver and would spend his weekends diving in the Great Lakes. He realized one day on the way back to his car that he had half a dozen flooded flashlights that he needed to see in murky lake water. Brigham decided he could do better and set out to create a more reliable design.

Brigham molded the first “Ikelite” in the back of the dive shop, in a Westinghouse oven. The rest, as they say, is history. Today Ikelite is a leading manufacturer of custom underwater housings for high-end cameras in the underwater photography industry, with global distribution in more than 95 countries.

“My father Ike’s focus was creating an affordable housing system for cameras for normal people,” says Jean Rydberg, president and CEO. “At that time underwater photography was largely professional, whereas diving was more recreational. Back then, there weren’t many affordable options for underwater cameras.”

Brigham ran the company up until he passed away in 2006. Rydberg worked at the company in several capacities throughout high school and college. She took over as president and CEO after her father’s death.

“A lot has changed in the world of underwater technology in the last 16 years,” Rydberg says. “We have greatly expanded our housing offerings to support all the new digital camera models and a variety of methods of flash triggering. We were the first to introduce an underwater strobe that incorporated a video light into it. It was a single unit that could do both a flash and an off-and-on video light.”

Rydberg says the Ikelite team has worked to increase the ergonomics, reliability and aesthetics of the product line. She says customer preferences change from year to year. Rydberg says customer connection was of the utmost importance to her father.

“My father was very engaged with his customers, whether it be through email or the message boards of the time,” Rydberg says. “In the past six years we’ve greatly increased our customer connection. Technology was always important to my father. We had a website before websites were a thing.”

Another way Ikelite engages with its customers is through what they call photo school. Rydberg says Ikelite is the only manufacturer she knows of that offers thousands of articles and videos about their products, conservation, inspiration, and how to approach certain types of photography. It’s about all the things you want or need to know when taking a camera underwater.

IkeliteShe says something that isn’t seen externally but is vital to the company is modernizing its manufacturing process with a focus on quality, organization and cleanliness. The building where Ikelite is located is more than 60 years old, making modernization difficult but necessary.

In 2021 Ikelite received a Manufacturing Readiness Grant from Conexus Indiana. Rydberg says former General Manager David Combs was instrumental in obtaining the grant. Unfortunately, Combs passed away earlier this year from pancreatic cancer.

“Back in 2020 David was saying he was retired, but was still coming in and working for a few hours a day,” Rydberg says. “One of his big focuses was connecting with people in local education and government. He was not only sharing our story with them, but looking for opportunities to connect and leverage the tools available in our community.”

Rydberg says one of the uses of the grant money was to bring on additional machinery to expand the company’s internal capabilities to produce more quickly. The new machinery allows Ikelite to respond to changing technology faster than ever. The $50,000 only partially subsidized the up-to-date, almost $200,000 equipment purchase.

“We also recently acquired a new robot solution in manufacturing,” Rydberg says. “Instead of a person repetitively putting a part in a machine, the robot can do that. We can train that employee on how to program the robot. That person can then, in turn, run more machines, which creates an added value to the company and also the employee. It makes the employee’s life easier by creating less physical wear on their body. It’s been so nice to see this come to fruition, especially after David’s passing.”

Ike’s five children have worked for the company throughout its history. Currently the company is run by Rydberg and her younger brother John Brigham, who serves as vice president. Rydberg hopes to keep leading the company, in her father’s footsteps.

“As a company we’re focused on improving the accessibility of underwater photography,” Rydberg says. “We do this through the equipment we design, the educational materials we create and our connection with the end user. Right now we are completely vertically integrated with a staff that focuses on the world of underwater photography. As we grow, we plan to leverage our experience and equipment by offering design, machining, and media production services to other small and medium-sizedIkelite businesses.”

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