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Etegent Technologies

1775 Mentor Ave.
Cincinnati, OH 45212

Thomas Sharp of Etegent Technologies

Thomas Sharp is founder of Etegent Technologies, a research and development company in Cincinnati.

What is Etegent Technologies?
Etegent Technologies has changed over time. We started by providing high-end contract research and development services to the Department of Defense, NASA and numerous commercial companies. During that time we pursued a wide range of contracts based more on their technical interest rather than their business opportunity. About five years ago, we decided to take a step back and reevaluate our business. As part of this, we formed an outside board of advisors.

Based in part on feedback from our board, we divided the company into two divisions -- the R&D Division and the NLign Analytics Division. The R&D division would continue to pursue R&D consulting contracts with more focus to our core strengths, while the NLign Analytics Division would focus on commercializing software we had developed for the Air Force and Navy. I’m with the NLign Analytics Division.

NLign Analytics’ software is called NLign. NLign was developed for the Air Force and Navy. They were collecting a lot of digital inspection data on all their aircraft to help them maintain their planes so they can keep them flying. What they wanted to do is get more value out of this inspection data rather than just saying a part is good or bad. We developed NLign to map this inspection data to a 3D model of the plane. This mapped data is then stored in a database that can be search to help them look across their fleet to identify reoccurring  problem areas on the plane.
How did you come up with the idea?
It was started by myself and my partner (Stu Shelley). We were both at the University of Cincinnati. I was finishing up my PhD and he was a research professor. We wanted to continue to do our high-end research, so we decided to start a company based on our existing work. We grew from there.
What was the biggest surprise in starting your business?
Good question. The biggest thing we learned – I don’t know if I can call it a surprise – is that we needed a strong network of advisors. We needed a strong network of seasoned entrepreneurs to help us. We reached out to the community and developed some close relationships with some seasoned professionals that could help us figure out the business side what we’re doing.
Where did you find your first employee?
We started the company in 1996. We probably hired our first employee in early 1996. They were engineering coop students from the University of Cincinnati. I cooped at UC, so I was very familiar with the program. It’s a program where engineering students are required to work half-time, so they take a quarter and work and take a quarter at school for the middle three years of their degree program. It gives engineering students some good hands on experience of real-life work.
What does a typical day in your business look like?
Currently, I spend most of my time working with our business development and marketing groups, which means I spend a lot of time in meetings in our offices and with customers. I spend a lot of my time on the road talking to customers.  It’s not really a typical day. It’s not like I have a routine.
What are some of the advantages to doing business in Ohio?
Probably for us, the close tie to UC. We’re very active in the coop program. We’ve hired many of our employees who have some tie to UC. The second thing is the Wright-Pat Air Force base. It’s a major air force base. It’s the head of the Air Force Researchers Laboratory. We’re in close proximity with them, and it’s helped grow strong relationships there. And we’ve recently opened an office in Dayton.
What resources or organizations in Ohio did you take advantage of and how did they help?
We’ve been discussing with the state on how we can take the company international.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
Probably the funniest thing was when we first started, we were working out of my basement and we won a million dollar contract from the Air Force to develop a technology. It was just the two of us. The government auditor calls to verify that we have an account system in place capability of tracking the costs associated with the contract, and the auditor grew up on my street. He knew the address was a residential street, so we had to quickly move and get an office.
What inspires you?
Initially when we started Etegent, I was primarily inspired by the personal challenge of doing something new – starting and growing a business. Over the years, my source of inspiration has morphed and has become more externally focused. Specifically in the niches where we do business, we focus on how can we have a positive impact on the world. For the NLign Analytic Division, this translates into our division purpose -- We make flying safer and more affordable. 
What founders do you admire and why?
The people who founded SDRC. They were a company here in Cincinnati. They were led be a visionary guy who saw an opportunity to fundamentally change the way engineers worked. It was a very successful company that eventually went public and was acquired. The passion they had and the vision of fundamentally changing the way engineers work has been very compelling to us, and that’s something we try to do, too.
What’s next for you?
The biggest thing for us is to continue to grow, and probably the biggest step is taking it international. We sell in the aerospace market. We are quickly being pulled into Europe and Asia, so we need to figure out how to address that challenge from a business development, marketing and operations perpsectives.

Interview by Joe Baur

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