UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Autonomous-technology startup’s UND roots run deep

Executives at Thread, formerly Airtonomy, bring their UND experience to bear as they innovate inspections of critical infrastructure 

By Mackinney Supola

Nick Zaccardi, a 2012 graduate of UND’s Air Traffic Control program, has worked at Thread (formerly Airtonomy) since 2020. Thread is a North Dakota autonomous-technology startup, and as the company’s chief technology officer, Zaccardi has found that his UND education has served him well:

“My time at the University of North Dakota brought about an incredible sense of accomplishment,” Zaccardi said.

Nick Zaccardi

“What UND does very well is create an environment that fosters learning. It allowed me the opportunity to try new things, to fail in some cases, and most important, to meet people with the same passions.

“The connections I was able to build during my time spent at UND led me to my current role at Thread,” Zaccardi said.

Thread was founded in 2019 by UND-affiliated individuals, including CEO Joshua Riedy, Chief Operating Officer Jim Higgins and Chief Computer Scientist Travis Desell. Riedy is a former vice provost and chief information officer, Higgins is an Aviation professor and Desell is a former associate professor of Computer Science at UND.

Headquartered in Grand Forks, Thread embeds unmanned aerial systems and robotics with software that lets customers inspect critical infrastructure (such as wind turbines and utility lines) and get accurate results fast. In January, for example, the company received a $1.2 million award to develop unmanned aerial system software to enhance perimeter security at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

And in October, Thread announced the first installment of what will be more than $15 million in Series A funding. According to Investopedia, Series A financing “refers to an investment in a privately-held start-up company after it has shown progress in building its business model and demonstrates the potential to grow and generate revenue.”

Said Zaccardi, “Thread is primarily a data technology company. We’ve developed a robust data and asset management platform that helps companies manage their inspection asset lifecycles in the renewable energy, oil and gas, utility, and military sectors, among other industries.

“Our technology enables enterprises to be more efficient, accurate and scalable in the delivery of their asset inspections.”

The team at Thread, shown here in Public Square in downtown Grand Forks, includes a number of employees with strong UND connections. Photo courtesy of Thread.

‘Truly a UND Story’

Thread founders and executives such as Zaccardi say they’re proud to hail from UND. “The flow out of this is deeply rooted in the partnerships and friendships developed during my time as a student at UND,” Zaccardi said. “This truly is a UND story.”

Zaccardi first met Riedy as a student in Riedy’s class in 2008. “Josh was doing groundbreaking work to involve students and to connect students into the process. We formed a personal and professional relationship,” Zaccardi said.

In addition, the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation also has played a critical role in Thread’s success as an original investor and one of the largest benefactors to date. “A unique and remarkable aspect of Thread is that its success directly benefits the UND Aerospace Foundation and thus the University of North Dakota itself,” Zaccardi said.

“Meaningfully changing the lives of students, faculty and staff is something I dream of as a proud alum.”

The Future of Thread

Thread is ranked by the Tech Tribune in the Top Two for best tech startups in North Dakota in 2022, and the company continues to expand its workforce, which now numbers some 75. The Series A funding mentioned above is one of the largest such funding rounds in North Dakota history. The money will be used to expand Thread’s autonomous technology into other market sectors, including both national and global markets.

Visit thread.one to learn more about Thread and how UND grads such as Zaccardi are changing the future of automated intelligence.

Mackinney Supola

About the author:

A certified flight instructor, Mackinney Supola is working toward bachelor’s degrees in Commercial Aviation and Communications at UND. She’s currently a marketing intern in the Dean’s Office at the University’s Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.