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April 21, 2015 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: Ben Nibali believes in helping other entrepreneurs

APTUS Design Works(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series focused on APTUS DesignWorks, Inc., a small engineering and design firm in Alcoa whose Founder and President takes great pride in its values.)

By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

APTUS DesignWorks, Inc. is a start-up in many respects, having been in business for less than eight years. As such, it understands the challenges of getting a new product or service off the ground.

But, unlike many, Ben Nibali, the company’s Founder and President, intends to help others as he continues to grow his business.

APTUS focuses on three key service areas – product development, automated equipment, and fixtures and assembly tools.

“A large part of our product development work is for local start-up companies, or small manufacturers that are bringing a completely new product to their market,” Nibali says. The company’s services in this area help turn a great market idea into a successful product ready to ship with development work that is “as cost-conscious as possible, hopefully not busting the budget of an entrepreneur.”

In the area of automated equipment, APTUS helps companies advance new manufacturing concepts into stable production reality. The firm’s extensive experience implementing complex tooling and fixture solutions helps these customers achieve their production targets while respecting the human interaction that impacts both safety and quality.

While DENSO is APTUS’ largest customer and the company has a number of other established clients in the automotive sector, Nibali has a soft spot for his adopted region and an appreciation for the help he received as APTUS was launched and later relocated.

“Many individuals gave me a shot at doing business for them,” he said, citing Jeff Bohanan of Protomet, an Oak Ridge company previously profiled on When he relocated APTUS to Alcoa, Nibali says he was extremely impressed with the support he received and with the city’s services.

“It amazes me how dynamic this area is,” Nibali says of the area’s innovation and entrepreneurial endeavors, quickly adding, “It is much more so than many realize. If all of these companies brought the most cost-effective design and development resources to bear on their projects, I believe it would have a noticeable impact on our local economy.”

Clearly seeing the direct connection between the vitality of the region and the continued success of APTUS, Nibali asks a fundamental question: “What if every small business that had a new product or process idea had the appropriate resources to develop it? It would change the local economy.”

So, what does a small, highly-focused engineering and design shop do to help move the regional needle?

Nibali has a policy of meeting with any serious entrepreneur and giving the individual an hour of free time to listen to the new product concept and provide feedback. It might lead to a business relationship with APTUS or it might help an individual defer something until the idea is further refined.

“It’s part of our community service commitment,” he explains.

The nearly 20-year resident of Blount County wants APTUS to be more impactful, not just grow for the sake of growth. Yet, any expansion has to be based on the core principles on which the firm has been built.

“As long as we continue to develop internal systems that keep us effective, efficient, and cost conscious, we will continue to grow,” Nibali says as he considers multiple locations in the region.  “What we do here is inherently complex and expensive, but we are committed to making it as accessible as possible to growing businesses.”

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