Jim Barger used to coordinate a musical group called the University of Tennessee Singers. He’s now orchestrating a new start-up in the UT Business Incubator. In many respects, it’s back to where he started professionally, and Barger could not be happier.
In the intervening decades, he’s started more than five companies in two Tennessee cities – Cleveland and Memphis – and in Austin, TX. Barger explained his relocations and his company starts and exits in a recent interview with teknovation.biz.
He coordinated the UT Singers from 1973 to 1984 when his wife, Donna, was moved to Cleveland by her new employer – Schering-Plough. As the trailing spouse, Barger needed to find a new career.
“I started working with start-up companies,” he said. In fact, he held three jobs at one time.
As he worked with these companies, Barger said he “saw a good deal of bad management,” but he also saw an opportunity to help these companies be more efficient through the use of computers.
By 1992 the Barger family had relocated to Memphis, healthcare division headquarters for Schering-Plough, and Jim Barger continued to work in the start-up world with a continued focus on software. He helped take a company public. A late 1996 two-week assignment for an Austin, TX-based company called Pervasive Software was extended week after week until the family decided it was best to uproot this time for Jim’s professional opportunity.
Over the next 11 years, Barger completed his assignment with Pervasive and worked with two start-ups, one focused on CD protection and the other being a nutraceutical company. He learned one of life’s great “entrepreneurial lessons” in working through the acquisition of the latter company by another entity.
“Get the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed,” Barger advised.
The day after their son graduated from Westlake High School in Austin in May 2007, the Bargers came home to Knoxville so Nicholas could attend “the real UT.” Soon after, a new idea evolved into a company named Resource IO that Barger and Karl Dittrich founded. While the former serves as Chief Executive Officer, the latter is Chief Technology Officer.
The initial idea was to help the Professional Golf Association of America (PGA) manage the generators deployed throughout the course that hosted the 2008 PGA Championship. As Barger explained it, the generators powered everything from the television cameras to the electronic scoreboards to the air conditioners in the production areas.
“Failure of a generator was not an option,” he said, adding that the software had an “early warning” capability. Barger noted that the early 2008 version was “so different in scale than where we are today.”
Resource IO’s current software solution not only allows companies to remotely monitor and manage critical industrial equipment resources such as generators, compressors, engines, factory equipment, and construction equipment, but it also has an enhanced “RIO Sentry system” that provides early warnings that allow customers to monitor multiple machines from a single location.
One current customer is Airite, Inc., in Simpsonville, SC, which is the sole distributor of Sullair compressors in the state. As Barger described Resource IO’s opportunity with Airite, he said that “air compressors typically start having problems before they fail.” Resource IO’s complete package will allow Airite to install a remote monitor on each compressor in South Carolina for which Airite has a maintenance agreement and monitor their performance from a single operations center.
“Airite can quickly deploy technicians when readings indicate a problem,” Barger said. This strategy saves money for Airite or any Resource IO customer. In Airite’s case, Barger said the company expects to monitor as many as 200 widely deployed compressors from the single command center.
Resource IO moved into the UT Business Incubator in the fall of 2010, and it has been self-funded by the founders.
“As much as I want to be a software company, we have a hardware component,” Barger said. He hopes to find another company that will handle the hardware side so he can focus on his passion – software.
“Software is the greatest thing in the world,” he said. “There’s no hardware. You front-end load the cost, then realize the rewards.”
Ironically, the Bargers son, Nicholas, has caught the entrepreneurial bug. He is doing a software start-up, AgDecisioning, focused on farmers and ranchers for “agricultural management.”
Barger said that he “loves the start-up ride – both the highs and lows,” and he is passionate about this region as a place for like-minded entrepreneurs. “East Tennessee is ripe for building high tech companies,” he said, but noted that the region has to address some challenges. They included better K-12 schools, programming shops, “pipes to the office,” and a good data center with big pipes and redundancy.