In the Business of Saving Lives
Entrepreneur Terry Billedeaux ’73 Creates Products to Protect
by Nicky Tiso ’10
Terry Billedeux ’73 earned an encomium from teacher-mentor Rudy Martin that proved prophetic: “Terry is a doer, he makes things happen.” They are words that still inspire, three decades later as Billedeaux embarks on yet another new venture.
At the onset of the Iraq war in 2002, Terry started a small-scale military defense company, Armor Systems International (AIS), that later received the highest contract awarded by the US military. The timing was serendipitous and the product vital.
“The military is a real interesting animal,” Billedeaux reflected. “The higher ups in the Pentagon don’t get there by taking a lot of risk.”
Billedeaux broke through this entrenched conservatism with his patented TankSkin® polymer, a spray-on coating that enables bullet holes in vehicles that are struck to self-seal in the same way blood coagulates to stop blood loss. Exploding fuel trucks in Iraq created huge duress for the military so TankSkin® proved an invaluable, lifesaving invention – cheaper and much more versatile than adding armor.
In 2007, Billedeaux sold ASI and started Ultimate Defense Inc. (UDI), a similar business that brings the ruggedness of battlefield design to the civilian market. A current product is Glass Armor, the only glass strengthener in the world. This optical grade polyester not only reinforces glass but helps prevent energy loss. UDI is currently exploring the application of Glass Armor on the leading edge of wind turbines to prevent blade chipping.
Billedeaux is not a stereotypical venture capitalist, nor a made-for-movies inventor – neither cutthroat, nor eccentric. He's soft-spoken, engaging, with an almost old-world courtesy that makes conversation easy and free-flowing.
Speaking of his success as an entrepreneur, Billedeaux evinces a strong understanding of collaboration and team dynamics. His working environment is familial rather than monolithic and his business philosophy is “growing large by staying small.” Looking back to his student days at Evergreen, Billedeaux recalls a field trip that he now likens to the television show, Survivor. Classmates, “stranded” on Hope Island, had to agree upon a constitution and govern themselves. Naturally, there was dissention. Students had to learn to work together, to compromise and innovate. From this experience, Billedeaux says he learned to rely upon a core group who distinguish themselves as “doers” while being skeptical of naysayers. On his chosen colleagues, Billedeaux bestows the same faith Rudy Martin bestowed on the young graduate in 1973.
Terry Billedeaux is a member of The Evergreen Alumni Entrepreneurs Association