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Interview with Dr. Paul Lethbridge from the ANSYS Startup Program

Interview with Dr. Paul Lethbridge from the ANSYS Startup Program
Dr. Paul Lethbridge from the ANSYS Startup Program

If you’ve ever wanted an in-depth, personal view into the world of engineering software simulation, this is the discussion for you.  Dr. Paul Lethbridge is the Senior Manager of the Academic and Startup Programs for ANSYS, a global leader in engineering simulation and 3D design software.  ANSYS was founded in 1970, has almost 3,000 employees, and maintains channel partners in over 40 countries across the globe. Paul is currently in his 19th year working for ANSYS and helps startups get access to the simulation software they need to build advanced virtual prototypes.  

The Product

ANSYS provides companies with a compelling alternative to traditional prototyping.  Rather than struggling to design, build and test a physical product, their software allows teams to test creations virtually.  Importantly, ANSYS’ software can model embedded systems, structures and fluids, and electromagnetics.

Taking into account the strength of ANSYS’ software and their formidable reputation, it would be easy to assume their services are too expensive for entrepreneurs.  However, Paul provides a different perspective. ANSYS’ software is a cost-saving measure rather than an expense item. By utilizing software instead of costly physical prototyping, companies avoid wasting large sums of money repeatedly tinkering and producing different, perhaps ineffective designs.  “You buy one license and you get the return on that investment just by the money you save in your first couple of iterations because you haven’t had to go out and actually physically build and test something which takes time and money.”

This begs the question, can startups utilize ANSYS’ expertise to help them increase their chances of success? Afterall, prototyping is a critical component of any hardware startup’s journey to market.  Could simulation software provide young companies the edge they need to ration funding and beat out potentially slower competitors?

The ANSYS Startup Program

Paul has a fantastically cool job.  As Senior Manager of ANSYS’ Academic and Startup Programs, he has the opportunity to assist young researchers working on groundbreaking projects and passionate startup founders seeking to produce world-changing products.  After coordinating ANSYS’ Academic Program he realized a critical gap in the company’s outreach efforts. “When you move into the commercial world it is a bit more challenging. There’s a gap between what is offered for students and what is offered for entrepreneurs.”  

Although research students had easy access to ANSYS’ tools, many of those students eventually moved on to found their own companies.  Without the support of their university and the proper qualifications for ANSYS’ Academic Program, these young founders could no longer afford ANSYS’ tools.  The ANSYS Startup Program was crafted to address this specific need. Paul explains, “If we give discounted access to our software to these innovators, we are going to help drive a better future for humankind.  Better products, faster to market, and there’s an opportunity to really change the world.”

The ANSYS Startup Program selection process requires that applicants fit certain requirements.  In particular, interested Hardware startups must be less than five years old, make less than 5 million USD in revenue per year, and must be a legal organization, either incorporated or LLC.

In return for discounted access to ANSYS’ exclusive software, advanced learning materials, and company support, participating startups agree to partake in joint marketing efforts.  This shared marketing approach is beneficial to startups as well as the program itself, which then continues to attract innovative new companies.

ANSYS’ Impact

“ANSYS wants to enable innovators.”  Paul’s goal is straightforward and the ANSYS Startup Program is making great strides.  Successful startup participants include AirLoom Energy, General Fusion, and Onewheel. This diverse spread of companies displays the versatility of ANSYS’ simulation tools.

AirLoom is positioning itself to be a hugely disruptive force in the wind energy industry.  The company is currently producing a groundbreaking new design that utilizes a blend of horizontal-axis wind turbines and emerging kite technologies to harness wind energy at a fraction of the cost of traditional turbines.  Robert Lumley, AirLoom’s CEO, used ANSYS’ simulation software to win a Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the National Science Foundation in the United States. Lumley points out that ANSYS’ tools not only helped him decrease prototyping costs but also gave his efforts added credibility in the eyes of investors and funders.

Another stalwart participant in ANSYS’ Startup Program is General Fusion, a startup seeking to redefine the potential of fusion energy. As Paul explains, Michel Laberge, General Fusion’s founder, envisions a world of free energy for everyone, everywhere. ANSYS’ simulation software helped General Fusion’s engineers better understand complex movements tied to the 14 pistons responsible for eliciting plasma-condensing pulses in their initial prototypes.  General Fusion is creating economically viable fusion energy and remaking energy infrastructure as we know it, all with the assistance of ANSYS’ simulation tools.

Additionally, thrillseekers across the world can rest easy knowing that Future Motion, the creators of the OneWheel motorized skateboard, were also members of the ANSYS’ Startup Program.  With the incredible ability to glide across sand, pavement, and other landscapes at speeds of up to 30/KPH, the OneWheel is a true gamechanger in terms of human mobility. CEO Kyle Doerksen founded Onewheel and designed the board for a heavy price.  Each prototype cost his team $10,000 to produce. Instead, Future Motion now leverages simulation tools for virtual prototyping and testing. Production costs have exponentially decreased and helped improve the company’s ability to rapidly bring products to market.   

The Takeaway

Paul’s advice for early-stage hardware startups is critical.  Simulate early and often to learn as much as possible about a potential product before paying to produce it. Specifically,  “Consider simulation as early as possible – don’t wait until something breaks.” ANSYS is doing wonderful work to help innovators develop their products.  Dr. Paul Lethbridge is at the forefront of their efforts to collaborate with startups and researchers alike. He explains, “There’s never a dull moment working with startups and young people with passion and drive for their projects.”  Paul’s drive to support young innovators is contagious and his engagement illustrates his commitment to improving the world, one hardware startup at a time.