The public transportation industry is filled with companies from across the globe. Init (Innovations in Transportation Inc.) is no exception. Founded in Germany more than two decades ago, the company put down roots in Virginia 10 years ago and now is a flourishing leader in the U.S. transit market. I had a chance to speak with Init USA President Roland Staib to learn how this German company became so embedded in the United States.
University Start Up
Init started off as a part of Karlsruhe University in Germany says Staib. “It was a spin off.”
Karlsruhe University is a major technical university in Germany, which includes an institute for transportation. It was here that Staib got his start in transit.
“I started to work there as a student. I needed to work anyway to earn money. And so I picked a job there, and this is actually where I met [Dr. Gottfried Greschner, Init founder]. He worked at that time for the university.”
Staib worked for Greschner at the university until he spun Init off, “Pretty much I worked for the university and at some point in time you got your paycheck from another entity. It changed all the time depending on where the funds came from. It was research work in demand-oriented public transit, actually.”
Staib says that the research also had practical applications as it was put into operation in a small German city in a way much like some systems are run today.
“It was on-demand very similar to what you see here as paratransit, but bus stop-oriented,” Staib says.
“They had a very, very dense network of bus stops, and if you wanted to get picked up you needed to call in.”
After college Staib became a software programmer and started his own business, which allowed him to get experience in project management, sales and management in general, all the while Init was growing.
The company’s first project outside Germany was in Stockholm, which Staib explains with a laugh, “It was kind of funny how we got there. We had the first system up and running in Germany. This is when we kind of developed also from a software-oriented, pretty much small software house to a turnkey system provider.
“There was some publication [of the system they were running in Germany] in a German trade magazine, and the guys in Sweden many of them have a good knowledge of German.
“So one project manager read the German magazine, he couldn’t understand it completely, but [he had] pictures and text. Then they called us at that time and said we want to try a small-size CAD/AVL project. We saw it in the magazine. Don’t you want to come and present your solution?”
Staib says at that time they didn’t have a single word of documentation in English, which he thought could be problematic, but they decided to give it a shot anyway.
“We said, OK, maybe a little bit far reaching, but may not hurt. Let’s go there. Let’s present. And maybe not this time, but there’s always follow up,” Staib says.
They won the project, a proof of concept built on one route with 10 buses running on it. The project included everything the nascent company proposed, including CAD/AVL, real-time passenger information and traffic signal priority. This was Staib’s and Init’s first foray into international business, and with the project’s success he began to explore the North American market.
Staib traveled to the United States to pitch what Init could do for transit, but he ran into skepticism from agencies. “They would all look at it and they would all [say] great, great technology. Yeah, but we don’t know. Works in Europe. Who knows if it works here? Everything is different here.
“So at some point in time we decided that we needed to show something and this is when we [worked] with Akron, Ohio. They let us install a very, very small, limited-size kind of proof of concept system. Pretty much the same thing we did in Stockholm.”
With the success of its system in Akron, Staib says the company decided it was time for a U.S.-based office.