Dan Walker (B.Eng. '89, PhD '97)
By Susen Johnson, Luminus (Vol. 27, No.1, Winter 2001)
The year was 1993. At the cavitation tunnel deep within IMD, a stressed Memorial PhD candidate realized
he was running out of money. Looking around, the young engineer noticed that the tunnel in which he was
doing research was valuable as a commercial testing tool, that the international marine marketplace had
a need for such a facility, and that his experience was a commodity. At that moment, St. John's native
Dan Walker became an entrepreneur.
Founded by Walker, along with Carl Harris and some other Memorial graduate students, Marineering Limited,
the company that would become the private-sector component of Oceanic Consulting Corporation, is a
client-oriented ocean engineering research and consulting service linking several of the province's
most important ocean-industry resources. A key player in the 'new Newfoundland', Marineering links
Memorial's Ocean Engineering Research Centre, the Marine Institute, and the National Research Council's
Institute for Marine Dynamics, capitalizing on the fact that $100 million worth of facilities are apportioned
between three public-sector organizations and across two levels of government, mesmerizing potential
Walker's fledgling company was successful from the start, but it has also faced challenges. Following
Paul Martin's infamous 1995 budget and the ensuing rapid downsizing of the NRC, the company saw that
its service was inappropriate to the then-suffering Canadian marine industry, and headed to the Offshore
Technology Conference in Houston, Texas, in 1997. The business climate was promising, and when Walker
decided Marineering should exhibit the following year, kismet saw the company forced to share booth
space in the provincial government's exhibit with NRC. It was then that the entities realized their
structure was a marketing miss, confusing potential clients. "They saw the Center for Marine Simulation,
the Institute for Marine Dynamics, the Ocean Engineering Research Centre, and then they saw Marineering,
" Walker explains. "So they were getting five brochures from one community."
Upon their return to St. John's, Premier Tobin hosted a meeting at which Marineering made a case for
integrating its marketing strategies with MUN and NRC's commercial capabilities - an alliance to facilitate
business through client-oriented subcontracting of facility time and engineering services. The concept
linked the technical credibility and scientific depth of the NRC and the university with the private-sector
team of Marineering - a crucial element, Walker argues.
"We're cash-flow oriented, so we're going to perform. That's our only mandate - provide commercial
services to our commercial clients. Strategic research? Talk to NRC. Education? Talk to MUN. Commercial
design evaluation services? Talk to our company."
The result of that meeting, Oceanic Consulting Corporation, opened in November 1998 as a marine
performance evaluation firm. Walker translates, "We take a prototype design and develop a method
of evaluating the hydrodynamic performance of it - the motion, powering, maneuvering characteristics,
and so on. Any kind of marine system - not only vessels, but gravity-based structures, bottom-founded designs,
towed devices like underwater vehicles and systems for the seismic business - we test and analyze it."
With high-profile clients like American yacht designer Eric Sponberg and sailing phenom Russell Coutts,
Walker says the challenge now is balancing business development with operations, citing the company's
growth from nine to 32 employees - mostly MUN and MI grads - in less than three years.
Walker credits his decision to study naval architectural engineering at MUN for a good part of his
success, but he's also grateful for apprenticeship in his family's business.
"Entrepreneurship in engineering is very important," he says. It's the art of doing with one
dollar what any fool can do with two."
© Copyright 2002 Memorial University of Newfoundland
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