In a flash: OmniSite’s partnership with Rose-Hulman Ventures spurs big product improvements

Gage Wilkinson

Choosing the best: Mechanical engineering major and Rose-Hulman Ventures intern Gage Wilkinson was part of the team that helped OmniSite develop SmarteLight, a groundbreaking new equipment monitor.

If a pump fails in a city’s wastewater treatment system, the results can be disastrous. Cleanup costs alone can stretch into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

That’s where OmniSite comes in.

The Indianapolis-based company makes SmarteLight, an equipment monitoring alarm that is designed to contact key people when something goes wrong. Using cellular telephone technology, SmarteLight sends automated calls and text messages as soon as trouble happens. This can keep small problems from becoming costly disasters.

SmarteLight, which will be available for purchase this fall, “is the world’s best alarm light, I really believe that,” said Tom Ward, OmniSite’s founder and president.

Ward, an engineer, started OmniSite 16 years ago working in his central Indiana garage. The business now employs more than thirty people serving about 1,800 municipal clients across North America.

Ward views Rose-Hulman Ventures as a key to OmniSite’s success. In the case of the SmarteLight, Ventures experts took a relatively expensive-to-produce prototype and transformed it into something far better and at a lower cost, he said. The alarm light is expected to retail for only about $300.

Ventures made “extreme improvements” to the original design, Ward said.

Ward stumbled across Rose-Hulman Ventures about three years ago while attending a career fair in Indianapolis with his son. He was impressed by what Ventures offered and vowed to give it a try. The results, he said, have not been disappointing.

Gage Wilkinson and OmniSite founder and President Tom Ward

Golden touch: With the help of Rose-Hulman Ventures interns such as Gage Wilkinson (right), OmniSite founder and President Tom Ward believes his company’s latest innovation, SmarteLight, is ready to revolutionize the equipment monitoring industry.

“I had always done everything in house until I ran into Rose-Hulman Ventures,” he said. "It’s a perfect fit for the type of work we do.”

OmniSite has engineers on staff, but mostly for programming and electronics. When mechanical engineers are needed, Ward turns to Ventures, providing the company with tremendous expertise and significant savings. At times, Ward utilizes Ventures for software and electrical development services as well.

Before finding Ventures, Ward said he had attempted to make partnerships with other educational institutions, but always without success.

“I couldn’t believe how easy it was,” he said. Ventures, for example, does not demand intellectual property rights for the products it helps develop, he noted.

“That’s a biggie,” Ward said.

Ward, who launched a student innovation fund in Indianapolis to promote engineering education for students from underrepresented groups, also loves the fact that Rose-Hulman students gain practical experience working on OmniSite projects.

“That’s very important,” Ward said. “The kids coming out of Ventures are going to be rock stars.”