In the highly technical field of manufacturing lightweight structural materials for air and space craft, I have relied upon equal parts of education and street smarts to grow my business. But the proportion of each changes with the task.

I have a doctorate in polymer science and started my company as a consulting business. I soon realized that a steady revenue stream was in manufacturing. Besides, it is always fun to make things.

My education taught me to think and solve problems but the street smarts side provided the drive to make a business out of composite structures.

Composite materials are lightweight structural materials with unique characteristics that make their sometimes high cost worth the benefits they provide in engineering applications. They are used extensively in space and aerospace applications where weight is of paramount importance. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is an excellent example of the applied technology of composites. The Dreamliner took its maiden commercial flight on October 26 with All Nippon Airlines. The light weight of the aircraft from the extensive use of composite materials provides a 20 percent fuel savings.

My company specializes in niche composite structures such as radomes and custom optical benches where large production rates are rare commodities.

I started making composite structures in my garage, as most entrepreneurs do. It did not take too long to expand into other products and another garage. I had to be faster and less expensive than all of my competitors and make my customers want me as their preferred source.

I developed a “virtual” company concept where the traditional structure of a company was absent and specific needs for technology were subcontracted out to control expenses and overhead since I funded the start of the company. This approach balances street smarts with highly technical knowledge of the field.

Like most businesses, the recession has hurt us.

But we have repositioned ourselves. The economy has provided opportunities for us to stand out among our competitors in the area of pricing, customer service and turnaround time. In 2011 and beyond, I see more opportunities out there and things are looking much better than last year.

We are surviving and thriving amid the downturn. That’s what street smart businesses do.

Richard A. Brand is the owner of Advanced Materials Associates in Stockton, Calif.