Inventor plans to simplify pilots' lives, reduce clutter

Inventor plans to simplify pilots' lives, reduce clutter

July 23rd, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Richard Hardin, founder of Cumberland Signal Labs, tweaks an instrument at his Main Street office in Chattanooga. His invention, which he calls Flight Hub, helps to consolidate airplane wiring and add an additional level of safety and accessibility for pilots of older planes.

Photo by Ellis Smith/Times Free Press.

• Name: Cumberland Signal Labs

• Location: Main Street, Chattanooga

• Products/services: The company builds a signal routing box that affixes behind the dashboard on airplanes. It provides a physical connection between different instruments. "If you looked at the instrument panel behind an airplane, it would look like my 2-year-old son had just gotten 20 reels of wire off the wall at Lowe's and just wadded them all together," said founder Richard Hardin. Especially in older planes, dozens of instruments can use hundreds of wires to connect to each other. Until the mid-2000s, instruments consisted of many individual gauges. Many of these older planes have been well-cared for and are still in the air, creating a demand for sturdier, simplified connections.

• Age: Hardin first started designing Flight Hub in December 2010; he took the company live in March.

• Startup investment: $50,000

• Estimated sales: As much as $35 million within five years if the company can penetrate 5 percent of the market.

• Target market: Pilots flying planes made before the mid-2000s, "anything smaller than a 737," Hardin said.

• Biggest hurdle: Assembling documentation to comply with FAA regulations.

• Biggest reward: Winning 48 Hour Launch, getting an investment from Lamp Post, and the InnovateHere grant.

• Challenges in the future: Continuing to innovate, finding the next big thing and maintaining relevance, he said.

• Lesson learned: "Just make sure you have the right people around you," he said, especially depth in technical and financial areas.

• Five-year goal: "Either we'll be a really big local company or we'll have exited and sold the company," he said.