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Virtual firm engineers airy ideas into physical reality

Pat Patera

After 20 years of cultivating clients far afield, Synergy Technology Inc. is turning an eye toward its own turf, the Truckee Meadows.

Previously, the company of engineers-for-hire targeted mid-sized cities, says Frank Ferris, project specialist. That’s because companies in Spokane, Boise or Fort Collins, not associated with a major metropolis, had to travel to find specialized engineering talent.

Instead, Synergy brought that talent to them via the Internet. “It’s like having an ‘on-call’ engineering department,” says Ferris.

Synergy’s outsourced engineers will take a lone investor’s proposed or patented idea and shepherd it through regulations, design, engineering, and manufacturing.

Larger companies, says Ferris, turn to Synergy when they find themselves a little short-handed, looking for a fresh perspective, or wanting to put a project on the fast track.

Sometimes, a company doesn’t even know it needs help.

“If a CEO wants extra projects done, the engineering department will invariably say, sure, we can do it,” says Ferris. Often, he says, the engineers don’t want to admit they are maxed out or don’t want to open their turf to competition. Instead, they bring in Synergy.

A project for Veterinary Ventures Inc. of Reno, for instance, began when a vet observed that animals prefer running water, says Ferris.

Because the pet products company focused on sales, not manufacturing, it employed Synergy for design and development. Engineers took on issues of pressure, electronics, design and regulatory constraints, and the company went through a good 10 renditions before the final product, says Ferris.

Synergy’s market includes companies billing $5 million to $15 million on average, says Ferris. The company’s services are priced from $50 to $110 per hour.

Started with three engineers by President Ray Bryan, Synergy now employs 13 in Reno, Truckee and Las Vegas all of them in home offices and also taps into a virtual network of on-call engineers.

“It’s a bonus for the employee if he has the discipline,” says Ferris. However, he admits, 5 to 10 percent of those at-large engineers don’t have the necessary apply-seat-to-chair aptitude.

“They weed themselves out and go back to a structured environment,” he says.

Still, for those who can work without supervision, the company’s distributed engineering environment proves to be a good recruitment tool, says Ferris.

“There’s a lot of telecommuting going on,” he says. “They’ve reached a level of success where they can do that.”

The on-staff employees couldn’t come in to work if they wanted to the company has no physical home office.

This model a distributed network relies on Skype, an open source software, for internal communications and on PTC ChannelAdvantage for client interaction. And, when co-workers collaborate on a project in-house, web cams let them see screens and schematics in real-time.