When Onboard Dynamics launched its first product to market in October 2017 — a self-powered mobile compressor called the GoFlo that allows fleet operators to easily and economically refuel their vehicles with compressed natural gas — it was the culmination of six years of work that showcases Oregon’s collaborative entrepreneurship ecosystem.
There has been a focus on developing alternative transportation fuels to address America’s addiction to energy use and the pollution it creates. One of the more promising alternatives is compressed natural gas, an abundant resource with a much smaller environmental footprint than gasoline. An engine powered by natural gas reduces carbon monoxide emissions by up to 97 percent, carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent, nitrogen oxides by up to 60 percent and hydrocarbon emissions by up to 75 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Getting a vehicle to run on compressed natural gas was the simple part of the equation. Overcoming infrastructure barriers to make it practical to drive natural-gas powered vehicles has proven more difficult.
To accomplish this, Onboard Dynamics worked with individuals, economic development entities, other Oregon companies, investors and government agencies. These partnerships have supported other firms, initiated infrastructure improvements and created new jobs.
Chris Hagen, an associate professor in the Energy Systems Engineering program at Oregon State University – Cascades, founded Onboard Dynamics in 2013. Determined to see his invention reach commercialization, Hagen applied for additional funding from Oregon State’s Venture Development Fund and from two of the state’s signature research centers, ONAMI (Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute) and Oregon BEST, a center focused on advancing the state’s clean-tech economy. The company also participated in the OSU Advantage Accelerator program to prepare for a successful launch.
Once Hagen had proven his design was feasible, he recruited entrepreneurial talent to fill executive positions at Onboard Dynamics and put the business plan into operation. CEO Rita Hansen was recommended because of her work with the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network. Chief Financial Officer Steve Westberg was recruited for his background in financial and strategic operational roles with Central Oregon businesses. Chief Product Strategist Jeff Witwer has extensive experience in high-tech and energy-related businesses in Silicon Valley and was one of the first instructors in the Energy Systems Engineering program at OSU-Cascades. They focused on readying the GoFlo portable compressor for market.
Since Onboard Dynamics began, the company has received two patents and several more are pending. In 2015, Oregon State granted the exclusive license to commercialize the technology through the Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development (OCCD).
A school district in Southern California became the first to adopt the GoFlo system, and a Canadian company, Linamar, is the newest partner, agreeing to manufacture the systems at scale.
Hagen left Onboard Dynamics in 2015 to return to his research developing new energy systems. The company he founded highlights Oregon’s bright and vibrant startup scene, and its success is helping to drive Oregon’s economic future.