By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
When one thinks of the terms “technology’ and “entrepreneurship” in this region, you can’t help but think of Doug Speight.
The North Carolina native grew-up in the South’s long-time hotbed of technology – Research Triangle Park – and earned his undergraduate degree in industrial technology, with a minor in manufacturing production using computer-aided design (CAD), from North Carolina A&T University. He later earned his MBA from the University of North Carolina.
Today, Speight is on entrepreneurial leave from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to launch his fourth start-up, although he laughingly says, “It’s only the second I’ll claim publicly. I’ve experienced both success and failure.”
In addition, he’s serving as Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the additive manufacturing track in the 2014 “GIGTANK” program in Chattanooga.
I first met the always smiling and outgoing Speight several years ago and participated in his recruitment to ORNL in 2009. He was most recently a Senior Commercialization Manager in ORNL’s Science and Technology Partnerships Directorate before beginning the year-long leave.
Speight’s latest start-up is named Cathedral Innovation Group, LLC. It is, in reality, a portfolio of companies involved in capital equipment leasing, advanced manufacturing, and new product development.
For the serial entrepreneur, it draws on his past while focusing on futuristic, cutting edge technology and concepts.
In 1995, Speight and a college classmate founded C.O.R.E. Services, Inc., one of the start-ups that he will claim. The company provided services such as CAD, system design, and other support for manufacturing, packaging, architectural and civil markets. The duo exited C.O.R.E. in 2001, but the services the firm provided are central to Cathedral’s business strategy more than a decade later.
Speight says his work as a Senior Commercialization Manager called for him to “work with Lonnie (Love) and Chad (Duty) to aggregate their intellectual property.” Love and Duty are two key researchers at ORNL’s new Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF).
“It was a perfect fit for me,” Speight explained. “Manufacturing production is in my background.” In fact, the work that C.O.R.E. Services did included stereolithography, a predecessor to the next generation of additive manufacturing being developed and demonstrated at ORNL’s MDF.
“As I began to look at the markets, I saw how the cost of industrial grade additive manufacturing equipment was too expensive for universities and other research centers,” Speight explained. The fact that research entities had few options presented him with a solid business opportunity.
His business motto is simple: “Go where they ain’t,” a term Speight heard years ago that has stuck. In Cathedral’s case, it’s all about applying the capital equipment leasing model to additive manufacturing, and Speight says there is only one domestic competitor.
Specifically, Cathedral offers companies, universities, community colleges and laboratories two leasing options – dedicated equipment that is available only to the lessee and a shared system whereby Cathedral “buys back and brokers” excess time on the machines.
“We are developing a cloud-based approach to networking the machines,” Speight explains. This concept will enable Cathedral to build a distributed manufacturing network to serve a variety of customers, such as medical device companies, without requiring those entities to build their own plants.
Speight sees it as a “win-win” for everyone – lower lease payments for the lessees and added capacity for companies accessing the manufacturing network.
It also is very complementary to the goals of the “GIGTANK” program, hence the reason that Speight has agreed to serve as Entrepreneur-in-Residence.
“Distributed manufacturing needs large pipes to transmit the massive data sets,” Speight explains in citing the gigabit network that is available in Chattanooga, thanks to the Electric Power Board’s investment.
Additive manufacturing also needs applications to be developed by a “talent pool that is not yet pervasive,” Speight says. “They are hackers for manufacturing and production. They have no boundaries. They don’t know the rules, which allows them to create without limitation.”
During the annual FIRST Robotics Competition, Speight saw firsthand how talented high school students can easily create advanced manufacturing applications.
“They create without reservations,” he says. “Additive manufacturing is enabling us to rewrite the rules of production altogether, eliminating what we once thought were constraints. Increasingly, if you can dream it, you can make.”
By working with the “GIGTANK” entrepreneurs over the summer, Speight expects to help advance his concept of distributed manufacturing applications while also showcasing the equipment of the companies whose products are being leased by Cathedral.
Prior to joining ORNL, Speight served in a variety of roles including Technology Transfer Specialist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Director and later Assistant Vice Chancellor of Outreach and Technology Transfer at North Carolina A&T, and Executive Fund Director of the Inception Micro Angel Fund in Charlotte.
So, how did Speight come-up with the company’s name?
“Simply put, we do this to empower and embolden people to create extraordinary products for an extraordinary future,” he explained. “All humans have an innate need to create, to build. With the right motivation, our ability to create can even transcend the technology of the times.”
He added that the cathedrals of the 17th and 18th centuries were created with hammer, chisel and rock and remain timeless.
“Imagine what extraordinary creations we can fabricate with today’s tools,” Speight said in describing the selection of Cathedral as the name.