The evolution from engineer to entrepreneur
Qussai Marashdeh came to Ohio State in 2001 to pursue a graduate degree in electrical engineering. By 2006, he had completed his master’s and PhD. In 2009, he added a master’s in chemical engineering. He was far from finished in Columbus.
In between those achievements and earning his MBA at Fisher College of Business in 2012, Marashdeh launched a company with Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Liang-Shih Fan. Justifiably, he won Ohio State’s 2012 Student Innovator of the Year award. Ten years later, Tech4Imaging is the world’s leading developer of non-invasive imaging technology for commercial and industrial use.
Tech4Imaging’s foundational technology, electrical capacitance volume tomography (ECVT), was born of a highly interdisciplinary effort to solve complex multiphase problems in chemical and process engineering by utilizing electrical engineering solutions. The company specializes in developing instrumentation and advanced sensing solutions to unique industrial conditions that often render standard instrumentation inoperable, inaccurate or entirely unfeasible.
“Wherever there’s a factory, there are pipes helping transport solids, liquids and gases—multiphase flow,” Marashdeh said. “But no one’s very sure what’s going on inside. So if something goes wrong with a pipe, operations stop to investigate the problem. Downtime costs money.” Tech4Imaging’s ECVT provides a 3D, real-time image of what’s going on inside a pipe.
“We have working relationships with research institutions and companies involved in the oil and gas, chemical, geothermal and food industries,” he added.
And because Marashdeh sought and then found an ideal faculty advisor—Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Fernando Teixeira—when he first arrived in Columbus, Tech4Imaging serves as an Ohio State model for an industry partner.
The company now employs 21, almost half of whom are Ohio State interns pursuing a variety of engineering degrees. Eight full-time employees are former Buckeye engineer-interns.
And Marashdeh has continued the relationship by supporting current graduate students in Teixeira’s lab with collaborative research projects that advance ECVT capabilities and applications. The professor and former-student-now-CEO also have five patents together.
The bulk of the projects are funded by federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, but the first collaboration came in 2013 when Marashdeh asked Teixeira if he could fund a graduate student to work on Tech4Imaging R&D. In some ways, Marashdeh explained, Teixeira’s lab is Tech4Imaging’s R&D department.
Recently the company donated money for Teixeira’s lab at the ElectroScience Laboratory to purchase 3D simulation software for students to use on campus and while interning at Tech4Imaging’s headquarters in Columbus.
“This software is so helpful for research,” said Marashdeh. “We try to co-author with Dr. Teixeira’s and Dr. Fan’s groups and publish as much as possible.”
He added that many of Tech4Imaging’s clients discover them through published papers. He fields inquiries from around the world.
Their current product is a custom-built R&D model, primarily purchased by universities. The next generation model under development is for companies to purchase and be trained to use themselves.
“We’re starting to penetrate the industry market,” Marashdeh said. “That’s when we’ll really take off.” He is confident the Ohio State relationship will continue to deliver benefits as Tech4Imaging scales up to meet industry needs.
“It is not uncommon for a company to reach out to us after they learn of our connections to Dr. Fan and Dr. Teixeira.”
From Teixeira’s perspective, the benefits of collaborating with a former student’s company are mutual. “My advice to fellow professors is to invest in your mentorship of graduate students when they’re here and recognize their talents,” he said. “The trust and relationship you build may lead to productive collaborations with them once they begin leading in industry, like Qussai.”