Forging a new path: Bill Forquer
When it comes to welding, explained Bill Forquer, you have to burn to learn.
As CEO of RealWeld Systems, the computer science and engineering alumnus leads a team of talented Buckeye engineers who aim to transform welding education by making sure that burn time is as instructive as possible.
RealWeld Systems is the company behind the RealWeld Trainer, the first and only welding trainer on the market designed for use in the welding booth under real-world conditions. Using motion capture technology, the system monitors and measures a welder’s performance and provides immediate feedback on motions, adherence to welding-parameters and whether bonds are being made in a metal’s sweet spot.
“It’s the closest thing possible to having a welding instructor stand over your shoulder as you weld,” said Forquer.
In response to feedback from their membership about the business impact of the lack of trained and skilled welders, Columbus-based research and development company EWI began investigating how new technology might provide a solution. Manufacturers said they needed something beyond the available virtual simulation trainer systems.
Ohio State alumnus and EWI engineer Paul Boulware (’06, welding engineering) came up with the idea of applying motion-capture technology to monitor performance during a live weld. After successful tests and prototypes, EWI formed a spinout company and licensed the patent and technology to RealWeld.
“What makes the RealWeld Trainer novel and groundbreaking is its ability to circumvent all the disruptive noise factors inherent to the arc welding process,” explained Boulware. “Our sensing methodology allows us to avoid electromagnetic interference, mitigate arc light intensity, and is unaffected by high heat intensity and fumes characteristic to arc welding.”
In January 2012, Forquer met EWI CEO Henry Cialone at an Ohio State Wakeup Startup event, hosted by the Technology Commercialization Office, and the two began talking about the project. Soon thereafter, Cialone hired Forquer as CEO of RealWeld Systems.
The company launched its RealWeld Trainer in November 2012. The RealWeld team also includes fellow Buckeyes Chris Conrardy (’86, MS ’88, welding engineering), chief technical officer of EWI, and RealWeld Sales Engineer Doug Clark (’92, agriculture).
Forquer’s unique skillset is perfectly suited to lead the startup. The two-time Buckeye (’80 mathematics education, MS ’85, computer and information science) began his career at Battelle developing library and litigation software that subsequently spun-off to become Information Dimensions. He ultimately became CEO of that company before it was acquired by Open Text Corporation in 1998.
During his 11-year executive tenure at Open Text, Forquer led a variety of strategic, marketing, alliance and new product/market initiatives as annual revenue grew dramatically grew from $60 million to $1 billion.
In 2010, he joined Priiva Consulting Corporation as a principal strategy advisor to startups and technical companies after having been a fan of the boutique strategy consulting firm’s game-theory-based methodology since his Open Text days. While Forquer stepped back from his consulting work to fully focus on RealWeld, he said he relies on those skills daily.
Forquer has ambitious plans for growing RealWeld Systems, from expanding internationally to growing the product line to support pipe and overhead welding. Eventually, he hopes to adapt their technology to other welding applications beyond training.
The Buckeye engineer’s passion for startups extends far beyond his latest venture. He serves on the boards of several companies and is an active member of TechColumbus—a central Ohio organization committed to economic development of technology businesses—and the Ohio Tech Angels Fund, which invests in Ohio technology startups.
“I’ve been very passionate about startups and very active over the last four or five years in investing in startups, advising them, and now with RealWeld, operating startups,” he said. “I like the thrill of making something and it’s far bigger than making the product. It’s really making the company, building the team, and having an impact on people and companies.”
Forquer encourages Ohio State engineering students and recent graduates who have entrepreneurial aspirations to get involved in the startup community.
“Startup weekend—a program that runs nationwide and will be held in Columbus March 28-30—is a phenomenal experience, not only for engineers, but for anyone who has a passion for being involved in a startup,” he said. “It’s a wonderful experience for someone of any age and any level of experience to learn more by spending an intensive 54 hours formulating a company, strategy and plan for launching a startup.”
Buckeye engineering students who are burning to follow in his footsteps and learn more about entrepreneurship can do so right on campus via the Technology Commercialization Office. Forquer recommends attending the free monthly Wakeup Startup networking event, the same one where he first learned about RealWeld Systems. The office also has great need for software expertise and developers.
“An awful lot of the ideas and inventions have a software component to them. Just like what we’re selling, it’s a piece of software and a hardware appliance that goes along with it,” Forquer said. “There’s certainly lots of opportunity to be exposed to those kinds of ideas and experience what it would be like to be a part of them.”
Written by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org