Steve Cha: Intellian

Steve Cha Steve Cha

Originally from another tech house, the concept for a new type of antenna had been a victim of takeovers Steve Cha of Intellian told 'MJ': “We thought of it as our baby and didn’t want to kill it.”

Too good an idea to let go, he reached out to high school friend and entrepreneur Eric Sung and together with some of the original team they formed Intellian, “short for Intelligent Antenna” he explained.

Although KVH dominated the sector, Cha had realised there was room for an easier-to-install, cost-effective alternative: unlike the rest, Intellian’s solution didn’t need interfacing with the ship’s gyro compass.

“Of course, it was very difficult for a small manufacturer out of Korea to penetrate the conservative marine market,” he said. Cleverly, a Raymarine deal was clinched because although the established company had a huge presence most of it was behind the dashboard “so we pointed out the thing that really showed from the dock was a shiny white dome – which would have their logo on”.

It gave them a foothold and the rest is history: after a few years of “white labelling”, Intellian branched out under its own brand – and the company’s direct business took off. In 2009 the company added VSAT and Inmarsat systems as the hunger for broadband started to play to Intellian’s strengths; faster connections, simpler equipment, lower barriers to entry. For a while, each year saw the company double in size and achieved a successful IPO in late 2016: “A definite high point,” said Cha.

But the skyrocketing growth presented challenges. “We began with six employees, and now we have 300 and a world-wide network, but since we all started at a fairly young age - I was 31 – our professional careers have evolved within the company.”

It’s meant that for most of his professional life Cha’s been at the top of a successful firm rather than working his way up in the ranks like most managers: “There’s been a definite learning curve,” he said: “I have had to look over people’s shoulders and teach myself to manage.”

However challenging the personal development, Cha is clear about the company’s path: recently Intellian’s been focused on enabling adoption of higher speed connectivity solutions in a variety of different flavours: the company is not only providing systems for Inmarsat’s Ka-band high throughput Global Xpress service, but also antennas for new services being deployed in Ku-band. Most importantly, he explained the design’s focus on “frequency flexibility,” so antennas can be easily converted “for use in one service today and nearly any other tomorrow” – a real boon for owners seeking to hedge their bets.    

For Cha there’s a future that Intellian can help enable: remote monitoring, digital charts and navigational services, even development of low-crew or even unmanned vessels.  “For us the role is to facilitate that transition for the whole industry by delivering technology that drives adoption and makes it easy for ship owners to say ‘yes – it’s time to go digital’.”

By Stevie Knight

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