By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Travis Howerton is a well-known and well-respected player in the Oak Ridge community, having worked for the prime contractors managing Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Y-12 Nuclear Security Complex as well as the federal National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
What is not as widely known is the fact that he is also an entrepreneur whose first start-up was a company named Innovalysis. “It became a hobby project, developing software to automate quality assurance processes and doing consulting within the financial sector,” Howerton told us in a recent interview. “We had some big ideas, but we never really had the cycles to grow it and eventually we closed it down.”
Today, entrepreneurship is his full-time calling as Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of C2 Labs Inc., a company he joined in March to drive product development and corporate strategy. Anil Karmel, a former executive at Los Alamos National Laboratory, founded C2 Labs in 2014 with a focus on being a service provider.
“We’ve had this idea for years but until now the timing was never right to pursue it,” Howerton says. Karmel has infrastructure and cloud expertise, while the Knoxville native is more focused on the software or coding side of the business. They decided to join forces after Howerton tired of commuting between Knoxville and Washington, DC when he was promoted to a senior corporate position with Bechtel Corporation.
“It was either joining Anil or launching my own company,” he told us, explaining that he wanted to leverage more than two decades of experience gained managing information technology (IT) transformation contracts and projects in the federal sector.
“Our focus is on digital transformation in highly-regulated industries where we have rare experience delivering transformation at scale, in high security environments, and in places where you don’t typically expect a lot of innovation to happen,” Howerton explained. Those include healthcare, government, financial institutions, and utilities. C2 Labs is developing products and services to streamline cyber security processes, reducing risks, increasing resilience to threats, and delivering continuous contextual assurance to our clients.
“We don’t really do staff augmentation, and we don’t want to be a software development shop on M & O (management and operations) contracts,” he added. “We prefer transformational work, project-based engagements, research and development, and product development.” Those are areas that draw on Howerton’s progressive roles in Oak Ridge and later at Bechtel.
Howerton was a Software Engineer for Parallax Corporation in Oak Ridge for more than five years before joining NNSA’s Y-12 Site Office where he worked for about seven years, rising to Chief Information Officer before becoming Chief Technology Officer and then Cyber Sciences Lab Director for NNSA in Washington, DC. Howerton returned to the region as Deputy Director of ORNL’s Information Technology Services Division before Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC recruited him to play key roles as it integrated management of Y-12 and the Pantex Plant under a single contract.
“The way I’m wired, I like super-challenging, high-risk, high-reward projects,” Howerton explains, adding that a lifetime goal has been to be a Chief Executive Officer or to be a founder in a start-up. “I enjoy pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible and leveraging technology to change the way companies do business.”
C2 Labs currently is headquartered in Washington DC, but it has plans to open offices in Oak Ridge and New Orleans where it has a major contract.
“I want to do our development work here,” Howerton says of Knoxville-Oak Ridge. “There’s good talent available here, and it’s less costly to operate. Plus, I am from this area and look forward to creating some high paying IT jobs in our backyard.”
He’s already working on C2 Labs’ first product that is preparing for validation by potential alpha customers. Development was internally-funded and is focused on cyber security compliance.
Howerton took time to praise both Ted Sherry and Jeff Smith, two longtime leaders in the Oak Ridge federal sector. Both were instrumental in his hiring at NNSA and ORNL respectively.
“Ted was the greatest mentor I ever had and gave me my first leadership role,” Howerton said. “He was the first person to believe in me as a manager/leader.” In Smith’s case, he praised his vision for RES, shorthand for Research Enterprise System, that is an integrating software tool to support researchers.
“Jeff was a brilliant visionary, had incredible attention to detail, and always pushed me to be better,” Howerton explained. “I will always be grateful for the opportunities he gave me at ORNL and leading RES gave me the experience and confidence I needed to start a product company today.”