Extra-entrepreneurial activity: Ted Acworth
Extra-entrepreneurial activity: Ted Acworth
October 23, 2009
by Galen Moore
Boston Business Journal
Boston entrepreneur Ted Acworth has never really held a job you could call â€œnormal.â€
His current company, Artaic LLC, does robot-made mosaic installations and counts two Boston hospitals among its growing list of customers. With his work at Artaic growing more intense, Acworth has had to drop a sideline as a UFO investigator. To take up some of the slack, heâ€™s doing a little work on the side as a ghost hunter.
Acworth got the job as host of the History Channelâ€™s UFO Hunters program during the summer of 2007 while working with startups at MIT. When an e-mail went up on an MIT mailing list looking for a scientist with pilot and SCUBA credentials, he decided to apply. Acworth doesnâ€™t believe in UFOs per se, but he had earned his flying license as an amateur pilot in California, and learned SCUBA diving as a 22-year-old backpacking through Australia. Although the UFO-spotting has wound down, heâ€™s got the makings of a career in the paranormal. The 41-year-old entrepreneur is now moonlighting as a ghost hunter, devising tests to detect or debunk paranormal activity on the Discovery Channelâ€™s Ghost Lab program.
All this after helping design a space-based telescope built to test one of Einsteinâ€™s theories of relativity.
â€œI love research and development and cutting-edge innovation, and working with super-smart people,â€ he said.
Artaic is Acworthâ€™s second startup. In 2003, he helped found MIT spinoff Brontes Technology with MIT professor Douglas Hart, Eric Paley, who later started the venture capital firm Founder Collective, and Micah Rosenbloom, a Harvard Business School alum with Paley. The 3-D machine vision company sold three years later for $95 million to 3M Corp.
Acworth was there at the founding, but didnâ€™t stick around to manage the company. Instead, he joined the Cambridge-MIT Institute, helping startups spin out of the university.
â€œIt was like being a VC but my measure of success wasnâ€™t dollars returned, it was how many researchers are becoming entrepreneurs,â€ he said.
While Acworth was there, the institute worked with OrthoMimetics Ltd., e-stack Ltd. and Fibrecore Developments Ltd., he said.
Acworth signed on at Brontes after working at Stanford University on a test to calibrate instruments on Gravity Probe B. The $700 million orbiting telescope was designed to test Einsteinâ€™s general theory of relativity, by using a star as a point of reference to determine how the mass of Earth distorts space-time. He was on a team of researchers that developed a calibration system to ensure against a repeat of calibration errors in the Hubble Space Telescope that cost NASA $629 million to repair.
His new job as CEO and founder of Artaic isnâ€™t anywhere near the technological cutting edge he explored in that effort, or in the founding days at Brontes, Acworth admits. Heâ€™s developed software that can turn a computer image into a mosaic pattern, and a robotic arm that picks out glass tiles and lays them down 10 times faster than human workers can. Artaic holds two provisional patents, but the company is more a business venture than it is art or science, he said.
â€œTo go cash-flow positive in three years with a minimal investment, selling a product to an industry thatâ€™s one of the most depressed in the economy â€” I thought, â€˜This is something I can do,â€™ â€ he said.
Bootstrapped Artaic has taken friends-and-family investment â€œin the hundreds of thousands,â€ plus a $50,000 loan from a small-business program through the city. Childrenâ€™s Hospital Boston and St. Elizabethâ€™s Medical Center have both installed mosaic work from the fledgling company, and Acworth hopes Artaic will be profitable by some time in 2010.
Acworth admits it hasnâ€™t been easy going. He took the UFO Hunters gig because he needed cash flow while Artaic was a PowerPoint deck.
Earlier this month, his UFO-spotting time investment paid off in another way. Acworth was one of few not to be swept away by the news of a Colorado boy thought to be caught up in a storm-chasing flying machine fashioned after a hot-air balloon.
The shape and the loft of the balloon gave cause for skepticism, he said. â€œI didnâ€™t believe the kid could be on board.â€