Henry Bass is the founder and president of Automation Creations, Inc. a 20-person custom software development firm in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. He is an entrepreneur, a Reserve Army officer, and a civic volunteer for FIRST Robotics, Boy Scouts, and the Technology Council Workforce Development Committee. He holds Masters degrees from Virginia Tech (Mechanical Engineering, ‘96) and Washington University in St Louis (MBA, ’89), as well as certifications in software development and systems engineering. His 20 year old company, Automation Creations, specializes in custom web-based applications, with a number of successful spin-offs and Fortune 500 customers. Henry was a 2010 recipient of the NCTC NEWVY award, and a finalist for the RBTC Regional Leadership awards in 2015 and 2016. He is active on the Board of Directors for the RBTC and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, as well as the New River Robotics Association.
RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?
Henry Bass: Without a doubt, the technology infrastructure of both the Corporate Research Center, and the RBTC have been huge for us. Years ago, Microsoft predicted that businesses would only need Internet access and a nearby airport to succeed. It’s more than that, as we can see from studying successful technology regions. It takes a community of passionate experts who are willing to help you make the connections you need to succeed. I have found an abundance of like-minded people here who just want to help, and I believe that makes this region thrive. We help each other first, without asking, “what’s in it for me?” I would also add that it has been extremely helpful to have a great local bank: The National Bank of Blacksburg in our case.
RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?
Henry Bass: When I had completed active duty after the first Gulf war, my wife and I both wanted to get advanced degrees in Virginia. Lisa obtained a degree in teaching, and I in engineering. Virginia Tech was always featured doing cool things in Mechanical Engineering magazine, and our other criteria was that the community had to be small enough to not need a traffic helicopter, but big enough to have a Radio Shack. OK, both of those are obsolete now, but you get the idea. This region fits the bill ideally, and I believe, the size of the community has an inverse relationship with the friendliness of the community, essentially setting the condition for community support discussed in the previous question.
RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?
Henry Bass: I absolutely concur with previous authors: get connected! Seek out other opinions of your startup idea. Beware of being so in love with your idea that you overlook the faults and hurdles you face, so listen when others try to warn you. But also, don’t dismiss your own willingness to overcome those obstacles. There may be some pretty good reasons why no one else has done what you thought of, or maybe there have been a few mistakes in past attempts you can learn from and improve upon.
RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?
Henry Bass: In 2006, the VT Knowledge Works environment introduced me to the idea of meeting with other CEOs in a confidential environment to share best practices, challenges, ideas, and the types of things you just can’t share with employees. This once a month, half-day step back from my business gives me a strategic focus that I was lacking. We push each other to achieve new goals and add value to our companies. I’m now a certified moderator for LX Council, and I draw a great deal of inspiration from each meeting. Whether it’s the RBTC CEO forum or a peer networking group, this is a very important leadership element for a business owner.
RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?
Henry Bass: I believe we will continue to see the Roanoke and New River regions knitting together into a continuous fabric. Over the next 5 years, I expect two things: first, that not only will new passenger rail transportation improve our professional services with Northern Virginia and points north. But secondly, our developing workforce will build interesting companies right here, which capitalize on our rich quality of life, our educational assets, and our lack of traffic helicopters!