Class of 2021

Chris Bakker

CEO and Founder, Tech180; Age 39

To borrow a phrase from the industry it serves, Easthampton-based Tech180 has certainly taken off over the past few years.

Indeed, the company, founded by Chris Bakker — one of the true entrepreneurs in the class of 2021 — and now located in the Paragon Arts & Industry building in Easthampton, is gaining altitude in a highly competitive industry through his efforts to modernize and streamline the necessary but inefficient process of testing and certifying flight-worthy vehicles.

As Bakker, who earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California at Berkeley, explained it, “an aircraft has a lot of different computers on it that handle all sorts of things, like the flight controls, the engines … anything that moves on the aircraft has its own computer. And that computer has software on it that needs to be tested.

“To test that product, you don’t want to just put it on an airplane and then hope it doesn’t crash,” he went on. “You want to be able to test in a laboratory environment and make sure it’s completely vetted and safe before it goes on an aircraft.”

By creating such an environment, or testing system — one that “simulates the airplane” — Bakker and his team have enabled the company he and a few partners started in 2018 to grow to 30 employees and expand its footprint for a third time, adding a large warehouse and more manufacturing capacity to its suite of offices and existing manufacturing space.

In late 2020, the company announced an official partnership with NI (formerly National Instruments) and SET, two companies in the test industry. This partnership has brought Tech180 access to a larger pool of potential clients.

Such access is needed because, while COVID-19 hit every industry hard, it hit aerospace really hard, Bakker said. The company has responded by diversifying and adding military clients — flexibility that should serve it well when the market picks up again, which experts predict it will.

When asked what he does when he’s not working, Bakker joked that he “doesn’t do anything besides work.” What ‘spare’ time he does have is reserved for family — his wife, Rebecca, and daughters Inara and Juno — and also for sustainability and environmental causes.

Indeed, Bakker has served on the board of Grow Food Northampton and is currently involved in efforts to promote solarization, including at the mill buildings where Tech180 and other businesses are located.

 

—George O’Brien

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