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July 15, 2019 | Tom Ballard

UTC’s SimCenter helping IMSA advance technology through RevV program grant

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Networks, connections and introductions do really matter as any successful entrepreneur knows. That’s certainly the case with a new project underway in Chattanooga, thanks to an introduction that one spouse made for another.

Tony Skjellum, Director of the SimCenter at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), was introduced months ago to Corey Ranslem, Chief Executive Officer of IMSA. The introduction was courtesy of Skjellum’s wife, Jennifer, who met Ranslem during CO.LAB’s 2018 GIGTANK accelerator where she was a mentor. Today, Jennifer is CO.LAB’s Director of Programs.

“I met Tony last year and we started talking about how we could work together,” Ranslem said. His company is named IMSA, and it is focused on risk management for the high-value maritime industry that includes both large cargo vessels and yachts that sell for eight- and nine-figure amounts. We spotlighted the start-up in this 2018 article.

So, what’s the connection between IMSA and UTC’s SimCenter? The simple answer is big data, starting with the decision by IMSA to locate its Operations Center in Chattanooga because of the city’s gigabit network deployed by EPB. That aligns very nicely with the SimCenter which Tony Skjellum describes “as both a research accelerator for UTC and the institution’s research computing home.”

Now, thanks to a grant under the State of Tennessee’s RevV program, the two organizations are working collaboratively with Oak Ridge National Laboratory on a multi-faceted project to further advance the start-up in terms of its existing technology as well as future enhancements.

“It’s an 18-month effort involving three professors, a post-doc, and a student,” Tony Skjellum says. “We will be working on several technology areas. Our goal is to provide IMSA with a boost in intellectual property and help them with a robust roadmap.”

As noted in the recent article, IMSA was founded by Ranslem and his business partner, Frank Fenner, to address a growing issue of security for high-value maritime vessels. He noted that 90 percent of the U.S. supply chain is on a cargo ship at some time, there is a major incident every two to three days, and an average of 10,000 containers and 2,000 lives are lost at sea annually.

Those are staggering statistics with a very high cost.

To help address the issue, IMSA has just launched a beta test of its new Automated Risk Management Solution product that utilizes a variety of data sources that are combined into a friendly user interface to provide real-time information to manage the known and unexpected risks faced by these large vessels on the high seas.

“We are a big data company looking at thousands of sources of information,” Ranslem explains. Fusing those disparate data sources quickly so that IMSA can provide timely situational awareness information to the maritime industry is the goal.

“We’re in the middle of a rollout to yachts, and we’ll be launching in the cargo market later in 2019,” Ranslem adds. “We know the frontend works. Our focus now is on the backend,” and that’s where the RevV grant to the two organizations comes into play.

The SimCenter will be focused on helping IMSA develop the best possible product with its existing technology, while also understanding new technologies that it will evaluate for product enhancements or new products. Finally, Tony Skjellum says his team will help IMSA with prototyping.

“This level of expertise is really important as we start to commercialize,” Ranslem said. IMSA believes its Chattanooga operations could grow to 75 to 100 employees within a few years.

“By working with the SimCenter, we can be a catalyst for other start-ups to work with them,” he added, something that is clearly music to Tony Skjellum’s ears.

“Our goal is to run fast,” the latter says. “We have both the capacity and the interest.”

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