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At a glance
Attero Tech LLC
Business: Design, manufacture and sale of Attero Tech-branded audiovisual products for home and commercial use, and Attero Design audiovisual design services for large venues, including the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.
Headquarters: 1315 Director’s Row, Suite 107, Fort Wayne
Founded: 2005
Employees: 18
Ownership: Six employees are majority owners; all employees have an ownership stake
2013 revenue: About $3 million
Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Kris Wiley gets a close look at his work. Attero Tech sells products and sets up networks.

Hooking up networks of the future

Local firm among world’s experts on pioneering audiovisual system

Complex audiovisual hardware is the business of Attero Tech, a Fort Wayne firm with global clients.
Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Attero Tech is a global leader in working with a digital networking protocol called Dante.

Imagine you’re at a conference.

When the keynote speaker – the guru who commands the steep admission price – steps to the microphone, you and your 500 peers had better be able to hear him.

Most of us never consider the technical demands at such events. Not so at Attero Tech. The local engineering firm ensures that clients’ audiovisual systems consistently deliver.

Sometimes that means designing networks, including one for the San Jose Convention Center. Other times it means selling Attero Tech-branded audiovisual products.

Attero Tech’s expertise recently earned it contracts with two Chinese companies, which join the firm’s growing list of international clients. That’s a stark contrast with U.S. employers that outsource work to Asia.

The deals are part of a growing trend of U.S. companies performing private services for Chinese clients, according to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data. Revenue for such services more than doubled to $14.1 billion from $6.9 billion in the five years from 2008 to 20012, the most recent numbers available.

About 9 percent of the total goods and services exported from the U.S. to China in 2012 was in the private-services category.

Attero Tech has become a go-to provider, in part, because it’s one of only two firms worldwide authorized to integrate an Australian company’s cutting-edge audiovisual technology.

Sydney-based Audinate makes the patent-pending Dante system. To understand what it does, it helps to know how audiovisual systems are wired.

In analog systems, the old standard, each channel requires a separate copper cable. Installing all those cables is expensive and complicated. And the systems offer little flexibility to add or move equipment.

In digital systems, the newer alternative, one inexpensive CAT5 cable can carry hundreds of high-quality channels.

Dante allows users to manage all those channels efficiently. For example, an airport’s sound system might include hundreds of speakers in the ceiling panels. The Dante network could alert officials that speaker No. 52 in Terminal 3 isn’t working.

When Audinate’s customers have trouble integrating the Dante system with their existing audio/visual networks, Attero Tech is one of the companies authorized to help. The other is ZP Engineering, based in Italy.

High-profile Dante users include Paul McCartney, the pope and various Olympic venues, said Lee Ellison, Audinate’s CEO.

Audinate chose to work closely with Attero Tech because it was “a highly skilled, highly connected company that understood networking,” Ellison said.

“These guys know what they’re doing,” the Portland, Ore.-based executive added during a phone interview. Ellison described Attero Tech’s expertise as “somewhat of a rare set of skills.”

Attero Tech’s Chinese customers make power amplifiers for sound systems. Each sells products only within China’s borders, making them unfamiliar names to American consumers.

The manufacturers bought licenses to use the Dante protocol to add audio networking to their products.

The Attero Tech staff is helping make it work.

Time zone and language differences can make such consulting jobs a challenge, said Mike Sims, Attero Tech’s marketing and sales director.

But the firm has done enough international work – especially with European and Middle Eastern clients – to develop a comfort level.

Attero Tech has conducted its meetings with the Chinese customers online, he said. And even though their contacts have strong command of English, Sims tries to write and speak in short, basic sentences to minimize ambiguity.

The contracts total about $200,000, which is about 10 percent of the firm’s total design revenue. Design work brings in about two-thirds of Attero Tech’s income, and products account for the other third, Sims said.

“They both show signs of being ongoing customers. We’re on our second contract with one of them already,” he said of the Chinese companies. “We like to cultivate long-term contracts.”

The local company also wants to stay that way. While many startups build a patent portfolio to make the firm an attractive takeover target, Attero Tech doesn’t try to preserve ownership of its technology.

The patent process is long and expensive, President Rus Sundholm said. And there’s no desire to pump up the company’s value.

The goal is to keep working, developing the company and building it up to pass on to younger employees.

Seventeen of the 18 employees are Fort Wayne natives.

Many are alums of Purdue University or IPFW.

“We like who we work with,” Sims said. “We want it to be a Fort Wayne place now and in the future.”