After winning several entrepreneurial competitions, including MassChallenge and Lever’s Berkshire Manufacturing Innovation Challenge, the founders of United Aircraft Technologies (UAT), Evaguel and Daryian Rhysing, knew that choosing the right place for their start-up would be essential. They would need a location with a support infrastructure that would enable them to grow.
“When we started the business in Pittsfield, we were three people. Now we are 13. A year from now, I expect that we will be 20, and in five years, we’ll be around the 50-person mark,” said Evaguel Rhysing, CEO and co-founder.
The veteran-owned, minority-owned and female-led company makes a small, revolutionary thermoplastic clamp that can replace clamps that can be found by the thousands in helicopters and aircraft. It could have located anywhere in the country. Their founding team was originally from Puerto Rico and Venezuela before they each moved to New York. Their first employees came from around the country. There were many potential sites.
“We chose the Berkshires and Pittsfield because we saw an opportunity for growth. It has become a center for innovation with emerging groups helping smaller businesses grow, such as Lever and the BIC (Berkshire Innovation Center) in Pittsfield,” she said. “And the other reason is the deep expertise in plastics with manufacturing and access to equipment and materials that is pretty close by.”
The company worked closely with Michael Coakley, Pittsfield’s Economic Development Manager, and the City’s Red Carpet Team, which includes economic development officials from City and State organizations, workforce development experts and educational leaders.
They put together a $300,000 incentive package from the City’s Economic Development Fund, a fund specifically intended to encourage business growth in Pittsfield. The fund cannot be found anywhere else in Massachusetts. The unique set of incentives included funds to help with relocation expenses, the purchase of testing equipment, job creation and the start of a new internship program.
Coakley and the Red Carpet Team also worked closely with the company to find precisely the right location to meet their needs. UAT needed a site that would meet stringent U.S. military requirements for access control. The building also needed to handle the vibrations from a testing machine that can rotate at 3600 RPM and make noises as loud as a helicopter.
The building they found on Newell Street, owned by Steve Murdock of Berkshire Building and Remodeling, met those requirements. The company also appreciated that the location is adjacent to a park which could be used for small drone testing.
“The openness and willingness of the leaders of the City to listen to and understand the needs of an entrepreneur is rare. They normally don’t give you the time of day or see the opportunity you can bring,” Evaguel said. “Pittsfield did. What sealed the deal for us was that the City leaders wanted us here and would work with us even with the limitations of a start-up.”
The new clamp is rapidly getting the attention of the military and commercial aircraft makers as well. The plastic in the UAT clamp is lightweight, so it improves fuel economy and enables aircraft to carry a larger payload, won’t short out wiring, and snaps together, eliminating repetitive stress injuries that come from turning metal screws.
More significantly, the clamp embeds a network of sensors to monitor, assess, diagnose, and collect data about electrical system performance in an aircraft. It can often predict and locate failures before they happen.
“Our clamps are not just holding the wiring. They’re creating a live, 3D map of the electric system and how it’s performing,” Evaguel said. “We use the data we collect to feed our algorithms and do predictive analytics. So, for example, we can tell you that you have 200 hours of flight time left before the water degradation in this bundle would begin causing a leak of current.”
While UAT’s idea was powerful enough to win several entrepreneurial challenges and gain the interest of the military and major aircraft manufacturers, the founders knew that idea is not enough to create a successful business. Access to expertise and community support is critical.
“The people in Pittsfield have been so welcoming and supportive,” Evaguel said. She especially appreciated the female leaders in the City, including Mayor Linda Tyer and Community Development Director Deanna Reuffer, who were willing to work with her.
“Especially when you’re young, and you’re starting out, there are things you don’t know. Sometimes you have to make decisions when you don’t know. And one of the biggest things that a young entrepreneur fears is failure or the feeling of failure. Having other women leaders around who have experienced failure as well as success really helps,” Evaguel said.
“The support of organizations such as MassChallenge, IgniteU and the nearby Capital Region and Mohawk Valley Region in New York has and continues to help, support, and navigate the challenges as well as the investors from Upstate New York who support and believe in our team,” she added. “All together, we believe we have unique backing to grow an aerospace company.”
With the help of the City of Pittsfield and Lever, the Berkshire-based business incubator and investor, UAT found companies with deep experience in plastics to help them. The company quickly teamed up with two other local, long-standing businesses. Sinicon Plastics will produce the clamps, and SABIC is their materials provider.
“David Allen of Sinicon Plastics has been instrumental. He met us at the beginning, and he stuck with us through iterations, through the growing pains, through the time when we figured out that the basic design worked, but it does not work everywhere. How do we fix it? He stuck with us through all of that. And that’s because of him,” she said.
Evaguel is also excited by how the Berkshire Innovation Center can help her as well as many other small companies in the area.
“We use a lot of the BIC’s equipment to produce prototypes fast. Otherwise, we would have had to invest in equipment that would have cost us a lot of money. We are specifically interested in the metal printer that they just received. That can produce stainless steel, which can be used to make molds for the plastic. If we can make the molds with that printer, it will save us so much money,” she said.
She said that she is excited about her company’s future in Pittsfield and in being part of the community’s success.
“And I say what I told the City Council when I presented to them. I’m here to impact my company and impact the people who believed in me when nobody else did. After all, every big corporation started as a start-up. I am so glad to be in a city that can see that and give companies an opportunity to start and grow,” Evaguel stated. “We look forward to seeing what other collaborations we’ll build with other companies, including new companies that will be coming in.”
– by Roger Matus