The evolution from engineer to entrepreneur
How does one become a successful entrepreneur? In Qussai Marashdeh's case, you come to Ohio State-- not just to find ideal faculty advisors and obtain master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering; you also get a master's degree in chemical engineering and an MBA.
This interdisciplinary approach was critical for the development of a technological breakthrough that Marashdeh used to start his company, Tech4Imaging. Today, the company is the world's leading developer of non-invasive imaging technology for commercial and industrial use.
The company’s foundational technology, electrical capacitance volume tomography (ECVT), was born of an interdisciplinary effort to solve complex multiphase problems in chemical and process engineering by utilizing electrical engineering solutions for situations where standard instrumentation would be unfeasible. For example, Tech4Imaging can produce a 3D, real-time image of what’s going on inside a pipe to reduce downtime.
“Wherever there’s a factory, there are pipes helping transport solids, liquids and gases—multiphase flow,” Marashdeh said. “But no one’s sure what’s going on inside. So if something goes wrong with a pipe, operations stop to investigate the problem.”
The company grew out of his relationships with engineering faculty advisors. He launched the company in 2007 with chemical engineering advisor Liang-Shih Fan, winning Ohio State's Student Innovator of the Year award in 2012.
"Our mission in founding the company was to solve existing problems through innovative technology and to create value through innovation."
"Qussai is fundamentally an electrical engineer," said Dr. Fan, "but his training in chemical engineering enabled him to grasp the potential importance of applying ECVT to chemical engineering systems, specifically multiphase chemical reactor systems. He's a very creative technologist and a good manager for this style of company."
Marashdeh also worked with electrical and computer engineering advisor Fernando Teixeira. In 2013, Marashdeh funded a graduate student in Dr. Teixerira's lab to work on Tech4Imaging's cutting-edge technology. The arrangement continued, and five Ph.D. students have been supported to date.
Now with 21 employees, almost half of whom are Ohio State engineering student interns, and eleven full-time employees and former Buckeye interns, Tech4Imaging exemplifies how mutually beneficial industry-academic partnerships can be.
In some ways, Teixeira’s lab has become Tech4Imaging’s R&D department.Tech4Imaging supports graduate students, largely through federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, to do additional research, and recently donated funds to Teixeira’s ElectroScience Laboratory for 3D simulation software for students to use on campus and while interning at Tech4Imaging’s Columbus headquarters.
Tech4Imaging is currently working with research institutions and companies in the oil and gas, chemical, geothermal and food industries. Their products have been used at the U.S. Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), NASA, PSRI and Shell, as well as in university laboratories in Australia, Brazil, China, France, India, Japan and Saudi Arabia. A commercial model is in development.
“We’re starting to penetrate the industrial market,” Marashdeh said. “That’s when we’ll really take off.”
Many of Tech4Imaging's clients discover them through published papers, leading to inquiries from around the world.
“We try to co-author with Dr. Teixeira’s and Dr. Fan’s groups and publish as much as possible," said Marashdeh. "It is not uncommon for a company to reach out to us after they learn of our connections to Dr. Fan and Dr. Teixeira.”
Teixeira also finds benefit in the relationship. “My advice to fellow professors is to invest in your mentorship of graduate students when they’re here and recognize their talents,” he said. “The trust and relationship you build may lead to productive collaborations with them once they begin leading in industry, like Qussai."
--By College of Engineering Communications and Wenda Williamson