South San Francisco, Calif.
First place winner, Rice 2006 Business Plan Competition
"No one was talking about this technology when we first brought it to Rice, but in the last two years we've watched it go from unknown to required in the state of California," says Andrew Smith, founder and CEO of ATDynamics. "Kudos to the judges for their foresight."
Smith and his fellow teammates from Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business joined with an inventor who had discovered that a rectangular box is the least efficient shape for transport trucks to pull down the highway because it causes so much drag. Together, they wrote a plan to transform the shape of tractor trailers by adding skirts to the bottom of the trailer and a sloped, collapsible trailer tail that alleviates the air suction behind the truck. The technology landed the grand prize that year at Rice, which netted the team a $100,000 investment from the GOOSE Society of Texas, $20,000 in cash and an assortment of marketing and mentorship services.
After years of product development, Smith, who is the only remaining founder from the original team, started selling the technology in late 2008. He is now supplying both truck manufacturers and fleets with the kit, which fits almost all 2 million 53-foot trailers in the country today.
The airflow product improves fuel efficiency by 10% and pays for itself in one to two years if the truck travels at least 50,000 miles a year, Smith says. Right now, tucking companies are voluntarily buying it to generate more profit, but Smith and his team of 10 employees landed in exactly the right place at the right time. Starting in 2010, to comply with a mandate from the California Air Resources Board, all trucks will have to be fitted with the equipment in order to enter the state. Smith anticipates that other states will follow suit.
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