Born and raised in Shanghai, Tan came to MIT to study high-energy astrophysics and wrote his thesis on computer modeling of neutron stars. “Coming from China at the time, I had very little experience with computers,” he says. “I was fortunate to find many helpful students during my time there.” Tan also met his wife, Hong (Zhang) Tan, SM ’88, PhD ’96, at MIT. The couple married at MIT Chapel and now have two sons.
Tan struggled to find work in astrophysics after graduation and quickly turned to industry. In his first job, he helped a defense contractor develop a computer simulation of the first Gulf War for a US military training program. “I was able to make this change thanks to the training I received at MIT modeling neutron stars,” he says. “I learned a method. And I understood that this method could be applied to other areas.
Tan and Nainesh Rathod co-founded Imaginestics, an Indiana-based consulting firm, in 2002 and quickly counted numerous industrial and defense contractors among their clients. In their spare time, they sporadically worked on a technique for locating 3D models using geometric search criteria. The company launched VizSeek in 2015. Since then, it has deployed this software to develop a 3D printing and project management system for the US Air Force, a solution to eliminate redundant parts for Ingalls Shipbuilding (one of the main ship producers for the US Navy), and a quote system for a subcontractor that increased its efficiency by 40% over 14 months. Imaginestics has tripled its customer base since 2016.
“At first, we just thought of VizSeek as an interesting project,” Tan recalls. “It turned out to meet a huge demand in the industry that we didn’t know existed. Much of the manufacturing is redundant. You can be a lot leaner as a business if you eliminate this redundancy.