In the days of office-sized computers with machines reading data off magnetic tape, well before anyone dared dream of a “computer industry,” Andrew and Judith Economos worked in the fledging field. There were no punch cards or motherboards or rockets to put men in space, but Andrew, a Sarasota son who spent summers working at Cape Canaveral, and Judith Economos, an Alabama native with her a doctorate in philosophy, ended up inside innovation centers like Sarnoff Labs in New Jersey in 1958.

“This was the time of the big, huge machines,” Judith recalls. She still remembers the novelty when she worked for a company in California named Rand where engineers found a way to input information in one machine and have it accessible in another. “They had the first network sharing I’d ever seen,” she says.

Andrew, who holds his own PhD in mathematics, not only saw the potential of technology, but built a fortune off it. While working at Sarnoff, he saw a way to use computers to help what was then one of the company’s troubled divisions—NBC. The burgeoning television network supported itself selling advertisement nationally but suffered embarrassing losses as staff struggled to keep track of time slots and videos. Inspired by a pioneering system used by American Airlines to book plane reservations, Andrew developed a way to reserve air time for broadcasts using available technology of the time. Nobody even thought to connect one of the screens at the network to a computer to use as a monitor. “We had to invent our own operating system,” he says. 

But it worked. Andrew ended up pioneering the use of computers in broadcasting and eventually broke out with his own
company, RCS, in 1979 offering Selector—tech that would then revolutionize radio. Judith helped develop the business, while also teaching at Princeton University. The company remains a world leader in broadcasting software, but the Economos“sold the business in 2005.

This first-hand prosperity at the hands of a burgeoning industry in its infancy informs the Economos as they promote a future for science-savvy students in Greater Sarasota. While living in New York, the Economos created the Archimedes Scholars Program providing financial prizes to Greek-American students studying science, technology, engineering and math. Now the couple, who relocated to Sarasota in 2005, will launch the Archimedes Scholars Program anew. 

The philanthropists in February re-established the program locally with a $500,000 gift, which New College of Florida will administer to give scholarships to New College students each year, as well as to high school graduates from Sarasota and Manatee schools. No longer limited to students of Greek heritage, the funding remains focused on encouraging the study of STEM fields.

The first winners of the new scholarships were announced in May.  Saurav Kiri, a Pine View School attending New College in the Fall, will receive a $10,000 annual scholarship to study biology or biochemistry at the Sarasota school. Additionally, Kevin Zhu, another Pine View School grad, received a $5,000 annual scholarship he will use to study biotechnology at the University of Toronto, and Griffin Keckler will receive a similar scholarship, which she will use while studying neuroscience at the University of Florida. New College President Donal O’Shea, who discussed the opportunity to bring the Archimedes scholarship here, said the Economos are leading the way for students, both by providing the scholarship funds and a shining example of what can be achieved in the STEM field. “The Economos exemplify the breadth and intellectual generosity that we seek to cultivate in our students,” he said.

Judith says the awarding of Archimedes prizes in New York through the years proved a rewarding and inspiring experience. “They were all scary smart,” she says. Former recipients went on to study at Cal Tech and MIT. New College, the pair says, belongs in that echelon of institutions as well.

And that’s just their most recent injection of funding into Sarasota’s fortunate philanthropic world. Shortly after moving to Sarasota, the couple connected with other science enthusiasts, including Fritz Faulhaber. The micro-motor CEO, who died in 2017, founded the area’s first Fab Lab and launched the Suncoast Science Center, and the Economos remain supporters of the Sarasota institution, as it continues under the leadership of Ping Faulhaber.

The nature lovers also support the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. The two credit their involvement in that institution to a connection with Executive Director Jennifer Rominiecki, whom they knew when they lived in New York and she worked at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

The two also provided seed money to Mote Marine Laboratory for the new Red Tide Institute. The couple owns multiple waterfront properties, so they personally felt the impact of last summer’s algal blooms. “The funding is going to bring some stability to the research,” Andrew says. “It looks like we are going to get $18 million from Tallahassee from the Legislature, but I’d really like to see more philanthropy supporting it.”

The Economos’ dollars continue to empower innovation among young minds. But curiously, the couple’s own free time goes into decidedly old world hobbies these days. The walls of a Longboat Key condo primarily bear sculptures and paintings created by Judith. Steel panels on one wall create the shape of a running stallion. An acrylic of the Greek island of Santorini hangs near the entrance to the abode.

And all the wood furniture inside the place was originally carved in Andrew’s 4,000-square-foot workshop at his old home in New York. Engraved art decorates the backs of swiveling armchairs and the fronts of oak cabinetry. Andrew points to one chair with engraving on the back carved personally by himself and his wife. 

A dining room set in the couple ‘s house overlooking Sarasota Bay took about two years to complete by hand. Other smaller pieces in the apartment he carved with a lathe in a matter of hours. It’s an old world hobby for two people who found success in designing revolutionary software. But it’s one more thing that keeps the two living on the cutting edge, whether that’s the world of technology or digging into the art world forming steel sculptures or wielding a carving knife.