Chad Mourning of Affine Technologies
Meet Chad Mourning, founder of Affine Technologies, a 3D data visualization and computer graphics company.
What is Affine Technologies?
Affine Technologies is a 3D Visualization company specializing in aviation and avionics. We have a proprietary 3D visualization engine that makes it easy for us to track the positions, orientations, and velocities of tagged assets and convey an abundance of information to the user. We are focused on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) right now, but it also works for general aviation. Think of it as a battlefield ready Google Earth without requiring a persistent internet connection.
How did you come up with the idea?
During our master's work, my co-founder Scott Nykl and I were National Science Foundation fellows and developed a game engine to make educational games for underprivileged Appalachian middle-schoolers. Afterwards, we became graduate research associates with the Ohio University Avionics Engineering Center
(AEC) and leveraged our visualization capabilities to work with aircraft. We never really worked with the AEC on an UAV project, but those are the hot new thing so we decided to chase after that.
What was the biggest surprise in starting your business?
The biggest surprise was how easy it seems. I say that having almost zero revenue so far. Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but this seems like the best time in the history of the world to go into business. Digital Media technologies make the world so different than I imagine it was 100 years ago. You don't have to build your own shop anymore. Everyone can start in their own garage or parent's basement, throw up a website or build a smartphone app, and you're off to the races. Obviously, being successful is a different story, but getting started is easy now. One less hurdle on the track.
Where did you find your first employee?
Right now Scott and I can handle all of our work, but we realize that the time is going to come soon where we can't do it all ourselves. Thankfully with our proximity to Ohio University
, finding good help shouldn't be hard. We've got a fine Computer Science program here, and they produce a lot of quality students. In fact, I've heard rumors they are having trouble graduating them all, because they are getting hired before they finish their degrees.
What does a typical day in your business look like?
We're still trying to get our product line sorted out, so a lot of the time is spent writing proposals. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) roadmap for civilian use of UAVs still has general consumption a couple years off. So for now the DoD (Department of Defense) or their contractors would still be our biggest client. They do a good job giving special incentives to small businesses, especially those in historically underprivileged business zones like Middleport.
What are some of the advantages to doing business in Ohio?
We're still new at this, but it seems like Ohio is doing a good job making entrepreneurship a priority, especially at the university level. There is a big push at the state institutions, Ohio University in particularly, for turning the research that universities create into commercialized technologies.
What resources or organizations in Ohio did you take advantage of and how did they help?
Even before we'd started the business and decided to make a go of it, we started receiving help from TechGROWTH Ohio
, the southeastern Ohio regional center for Ohio's Third Frontier Program. We also received $20,000 in startup funding and a 10-week business boot camp from Ohio University's Innovation Center
that really put us on the right path.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
One of our visualization technologies designed to assist pilots in avoiding wake turbulence earned us a finalist spot in the Collegiate Inventors Competition
. During the contest, one evening we had dinner with the inventors of the microprocessor, laser printer, digital camera, electret microphone, inflatable catheter, implantable defibrillator optical fiber, and, most relevant to our work, the ground proximity radar detector and warning system for aircraft. It was quite an amazing evening to get to meet and talk to all those great inventors.
What inspires you?
The newest World of Warcraft expansion came out recently, and the new playable race, the Pandarens, have a valediction that goes, "May you find mastery in your passions." That pretty much sums up what keeps me going -- always try to get better at what you care about. I started watching professional wrestling at a young age, around five, and Curt Hennig, better known as Mr. Perfect, was always one of my favorites. I don't mind a little cockiness if you can back it up. Don't just take pride in what you do, but do something you can take pride in.
What founders do you admire and why?
The best ideas are the obvious ones that people are just having trouble implementing. Because of that, I think the success story I admire most are probably the three YouTube founders. Imaging sharing sites had been around before that, and video was the next logical step. Monetizing it was a problem, and I'm sure they ran at a loss for a long time, but it's a useful tool and I'm glad they overcame that. I wasn't old enough during the dotcom boom and I'm sure there were others, but I think they were the first billion dollar acquisition in the digital media space that I remembered hearing about as an adult.
What’s next for you?
We just finished submitting a proposal we partnered with the Ohio Aerospace Institute
on for the Air Force Research Lab. If that comes through, we'll be set for a couple years and can start working on growth. I'm a Ph.D. student in Ohio University's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science program, and the contract won't get awarded until June. So in case we get it, hopefully I'll have enough time to finish up my Ph.D. before I have to dive into that full-time.
Interview by Joe Baur