(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth in a series of articles profiling the teams participating in the Lamp Post Group’s inaugural Dynamo logistics accelerator. We asked each team to respond to a series of questions. The 10 teams will pitch their ideas at 10 a.m. October 4 during a “Demo Day” set for the Tivoli Theater, 709 Broad Street, Chattanooga. For more details, click here.)
Today’s profile is about SynapseMX, an Atlanta-based company founded by Shane Ballman that is focused on the aircraft maintenance sector.
Tell us about your team . . . names(s), background(s), experience, etc.
- Shane Ballman – 15-year aviation career, previously ran the Maintenance Technology group @ AirTran. Software developer. Licensed pilot. Giant airplane nerd. B.S. in Aviation Business Administration from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
- Michael Drew – 24-year aviation career, spanning the building of aircraft, maintaining of aircraft, and regulatory oversight in commercial aviation. Licensed mechanic. Worked with Shane at AirTran as Director of Quality Assurance.
- Brian Daley – 30-year aviation career, focused on records management and process improvement. Deep industry experience from time at multiple major U.S. airlines. Worked with Shane at AirTran as Manager of Quality – Aircraft Records.
- Kasey Dixon – six-year aviation career, starting with four years of maintaining Apache helicopters for the U.S. Army. Licensed pilot and mechanic. B.S. in Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
- Stacey Daley – 11-year aviation career. Specialist in aircraft records for DHL plus maintenance software training and support.
- Wes Shaddix – 17-year technologist career. Software developer and technology architect. Always fascinated by aviation.
Describe the focus of your start-up and the logistics problem you are trying to address. We’re building modern data insight for industrial maintenance teams. Many industry verticals still leverage low-tech ways of managing maintenance including pen and paper. Commercial off-the-shelf software is available but often doesn’t address operational efficiency problems. As a result, industry teams are often forced into creating their own ‘Band-Aid’ solutions as workarounds. These workarounds are very labor-intensive and often produce quality failures due to human error, process problems, and tribal knowledge. In commercial aviation, our beachhead vertical, those workarounds include raw headcount. A major airline’s maintenance operation can pay in excess of $500M annually in wages and benefits stemming from those process inefficiencies. Compounding the challenge is a growing demand across the entire industry for qualified aircraft technicians due to ongoing retirements. SynapseMX helps industrial maintenance teams minimize the impact of expensive business disruptions that happen. We are “money ball” for maintenance teams, helping to unlock insights hidden inside of their own transactional data.
How did the idea to start the company originate? What was the catalyst? In Shane’s previous role running the Maintenance Technology group for AirTran, he built technology tools that provided AirTran with an ability to stay incredibly lean. AirTran was able to grow the business without growing headcount. In an industry where eight to 12 maintenance employees per aircraft is common, AirTran’s 2.6 employees per aircraft was a huge competitive advantage. The maintenance side of commercial aviation is incredibly collaborative because we all want to operate safe airplanes. As a result, maintenance teams from other airlines would routinely visit. Without fail, they would look at the technology Shane designed and deployed and ask two questions: (1) where did AirTran get that? (2) Can they buy it? After those conversations kept happening, it occurred to Shane that there was an unmet need in the market. When Southwest purchased AirTran, that was the catalyst for the initial conversations with the early team which eventually became SynapseMX.
What was the impetus for applying to participate in Dynamo? Dynamo represented a great opportunity for several reasons. First, as a logistics accelerator and fund, they are deeply motivated to fix problems they understand very well. They also have a solid network of contacts in a variety of logistics and transportation verticals, so it gave us the chance to see how other verticals would respond to what we were building. Second, GE heard what Dynamo was doing and decided they wanted to be a partner. GE is heavily involved in aviation – from the manufacture and overhaul of jet engines to predictive analytics on engine data to operating its own mini “airline” of testbed aircraft for engine tests. The opportunity to form relationships within GE was incredibly compelling. Finally, the team behind Dynamo comes highly recommended. While Dynamo was considering us, we were considering Dynamo! We have some trusted mentors who speak very highly of them, which certainly played a role in our decision.
What has been the greatest value the program has provided thus far? Outside perspective. As entrepreneurs it’s easy to get focused and stay “heads down” on solving a challenge, so it’s a breath of fresh air to have input. These are other smart folks who have tackled similar opportunities in an industrial B2B space and can provide input on our approach.
What do you expect to accomplish by Demo Day and what happens after October 4? We have good conversations happening from large to small organizations, so for us it’s refining our sales funnel and then setting up pilot projects with our prospects. We’ve also had a lot of inbound interest from investors that recognize untapped opportunities within logistics and supply chains, so we’re looking forward to sharing our progress with those folks at demo day. Afterwards, we’re going to raise our seed round and continue forward on growing the business. We have a lot of great stuff on our roadmap that’ll provide value to our customers, and we’re looking forward to working on it with them.