Grand Forks company Thread chosen as next investment for 'Shark Tank' star Kevin O'Leary-managed Wonder Fund

May 9—GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks tech start-up Thread has been selected as the next Wonder Fund North Dakota investment. The North Dakota Department of Commerce announced the $2.5 million investment into the autonomous inspection and asset management software company on Tuesday morning, May 9.

Wonder Fund North Dakota is a North Dakota Development Fund investment program directed by "Shark Tank" star Kevin O'Leary and O'Leary Ventures. "Shark Tank" is a popular network television program.

Thread, formerly known as Airtonomy, specializes in software for asset management and automated inspection processes with unmanned aircraft systems and robotics. The company works primarily with clients in energy and utility industries, including Xcel Energy, to automate and streamline asset inspection.

Joshua Riedy, Thread's founder and CEO, said the $2.5 million investment will allow Thread to continue building out its asset maintenance solution. Thread's software allows companies to digitally compile and monitor information about energy assets like solar panels, wind turbines, transmission lines and coal plants, helping to inform maintenance decisions.

"Being able to digitize those assets, and then digitize the maintenance of those assets, including sensor information, including visual information, including notes from those that maintain those assets, including the application of AI, you begin to have a holistic view of the health of that asset, which is far more readily available for the purpose of decision making," Riedy said.

The North Dakota Department of Commerce announced the

$45 million Wonder Fund North Dakota investment program

in January. Unlike a loan or grant program, money from the Wonder Fund program is used to invest in North Dakota businesses with fewer than 500 employees, providing equity support to small businesses. Wonder Fund money comes from the U.S. Treasury Department's State Small Business Credit Initiative.

O'Leary Ventures manages the investment program, and O'Leary serves as the fund's chairman.

Tech start-up

LandTrust was Wonder Fund North Dakota's first investment,

announced in March.

"Our Thread investment of ($2.5 million) is the latest in a strong pipeline of investments we will make in 2023," O'Leary said in a statement provided by the North Dakota Department of Commerce. "We believe in Josh Riedy and his team and their ability to execute a bold vision to create jobs and impact in North Dakota."

Thread's business operations in North Dakota contribute to economic development and creating full-time positions in the Red River Valley, said the North Dakota Department of Commerce press release on Tuesday.

"Thread's technology can help energy and utility companies improve their maintenance efficiency, which can lead to cost savings and increased productivity," North Dakota Department of Commerce Commissioner Josh Teigen said in the statement. "This, in turn, can lead to job creation and economic growth in rural communities throughout North Dakota."

The Wonder Fund investment comes at a time when a large influx of federal dollars to modernize energy infrastructure is expected, Riedy said. The 2022 Federal Inflation Reduction Act will provide $250 billion in funding to upgrade the electric grid in the U.S.

"We truly have a generational opportunity at Thread to be able to digitize that system and to provide excellent services to our customers, such as Xcel Energy, and we're very proud to be in a position to do that," Riedy said.

While Thread works primarily with energy and utility companies, earlier this year it received

$1.2 million to develop perimeter surveillance software

for the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

"Josh (Riedy) and the Thread team are building a software solution that solves many problems for companies with complex asset networks," O'Leary said in the statement. "Thread's solutions improve profitability and accountability as the world's critical infrastructure is digitized. Thread's North Dakota location leverages the best of a talented technology workforce, leading academic institutions and supportive state and local government."