Loughborough Alumni

Our alumni

Julian Sharpe

Founder: IDEA International

Julian graduated with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering and Design in 1985. Having built up his own business, IDEA International, Julian is now working very closely on a Survival Capsule for people to use during natural disasters. Julian discusses his Loughborough experiences, career and passion to save lives.

Why did you choose to study Aeronautical Engineering and Design at Loughborough University?

At the time I believe Loughborough's Aeronautical Engineering department ranked within the top five in the country, I very much liked the idea of a 4 year thin sandwich course and Loughborough had aircraft and aero engines to work on during the practical sessions. Also the CIS was a pretty amazing facility.

How has your time at Loughborough University inspired you and helped you to progress in your career?

Because the engineering course included practical as well as academic teaching I gained a keen liking for putting what I had learnt in to practice. Also, having undertaken a 6 month internship in an actual engineering office, when I came to start my first job out of university the transition was a lot less daunting.

Whilst I was at Loughborough I got to meet many people from all over the world. This gave me a taste for exploration; so during my career I have managed to live and work in many different countries. And finally – having graduated from Loughborough allowed me to hold my head up high and walk with confidence. Loughborough has a very good reputation home and overseas.

Is there any advice that you would give to students looking to study the same course that you did?

Yes – specialize in Structures and Stress Analysis. I have never been unemployed throughout my whole career. It is very difficult to robotize and replace with AI. Stress analysts are always in demand. The salaries can be very good. With private space the demand on Aerospace Structural Analysts shall increase – think about it, moon bases, populating mars requires Aeronautical engineers for pressurized vessels. Transportation there and back – Aeronautical Engineers. Asteroid Mining – Aeronautical engineers.

The future is very bright indeed for Aeronautical Stress Engineers – I am jealous as I trundle through the autumn years of my engineering career.

Can you tell us more about setting up your own business, IDEA International?

My first job out of University was working the A330/A340 wing in the British Aerospace Stress Office, Hatfield. After 2 ½ years I went contracting at Westland Helicopters in Yeovil on the EH101. From here I worked in many different countries contracting on many different projects. Finally, in 2007 I left my last contract at Boeing and began IDEA International.

I chose to do this because I had reached a point in my life where I wanted to have more control on what I spent my time working on. IDEA gave me an opportunity to choose projects and customers and gave me more control on direction. I started out working on my own for 6 months and gradually brought people in as and when needed. Next March shall mark our 10 year anniversary!

How did you gain experience to set up your own business – what were your previous roles?

My experience was gained throughout my contracting experience at Westland Helicopters (Yeovil, Somerset), European Space Agency (Noordwijk, Netherlands), Bombardier (Montreal, Canada), Telair (Munchen, Germany), Aermacchi (Milan, Italy), and Boeing (Seattle, USA). Having worked on many programs in many countries I built up much experience and many many contacts. This proved very useful when I came to start my own business.

What have you designed specifically throughout your career, and is there something that you are most proud of?

Most of my career has been spent on large projects which I have played a small role in such as Global Express, EH101, numerous Boeing aircraft, MRJ and numerous Airbus aircraft. I suspect the more exciting, Julian related work was during my time at ESA/ESTEC where the projects were a lot smaller and more personal, such as optical benches mounted on satellites, various experimental devices engineered on to the host payload. This was not only exciting and rewarding – your work actually left the planet which for some reason gave me an extra thrill!!

At what point in your career did you decide that you had a passion for helping people by designing the Survival Capsule?

Well, it was not so much deciding that I had a passion for helping people as spending the weekend on the Oregon Coast and realizing that if a Tsunami came my family and I would be toast. So I started thinking of things I could invent such that we could simply jump into and ride out the series of Tsunami waves and remain safe. When Sendai happened in March 2011 we got busy and created a prototype for testing and began developing the products.

How many people’s lives do you think the capsule will affect and help? Do you have a key goal?

Our goal is that if we can save just one life it will have been well worth the effort. Having said that, I suspect that a lot more than one life could potentially be saved. Currently we are targeting Japan and the US domestic market with our 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 16 person capsules.

It appears that not only Tsunami exposed coastal communities are interested but also Hurricane exposed coastal communities. In Japan we are helping Japan prepare for the Nankai Trough earthquake and Tsunami and in the US we are supporting communities along the Cascadia fault which runs for around 500 miles up the western pacific coast. The Nankai Trough could cause deaths to exceed 350,000.

How do you see this work developing in the future – could something similar work for other natural disasters?

Yes indeed, we hope to help protect people from Tsunamis, Hurricanes, Typhoons, Tidal Surges and natural disasters as these have several adaptations and there are new models on the drawing board. It is worth noting that with global warming, whether one believes that man is partly responsible or not, the end result is the same. Oceanic energy levels are on the rise which helps raise the intensity level of Hurricanes and typhoons etc. and sea levels are rising. So devices such as Survival Capsules shall have a larger role to play as the human population adapts and reconfigures locations.

Where does your passion and drive for such huge and unique projects stem from?

Passion and drive stems from a good engineering background, a desire to create and a basic human instinct – to help others who might not otherwise be able help themselves.

I have worked with VIP aircraft from Global Express to the new B747-8 VIP, designed to transport the few and far between in sheer luxury. It is refreshing to be able to use my same skill set to create the Survival Capsule which hopefully will save many lives one day.

Do you have anything else that you would specifically like to achieve in the near future?

I very much want to be a part of the new Private Space revolution that is happening right now with companies such as SpaceX, Planetary Resources, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. IDEA is working hard to enter this currently relatively small market, which over the next 10 years shall grow exponentially. Manned Lunar bases and manned flight to Mars shall happen and IDEA hopefully will play a small role in supporting.

Finally watch out for ADRIFT 2017 – ALEX BELLINI. Survival Capsule shall build a capsule for Alex Bellini to live in on a Greenland iceberg for up to 12 months and help raise public awareness on rising sea levels and global warming, whilst supporting the scientific community by taking critical extensive samples and measurements as the iceberg runs its course.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about your Loughborough experience or career?

My time at Loughborough was terrific and I believe helped provide me with an unequalled advantage and start to my career. Long may Loughborough reign.

To find out more about Julian's work, visit the Survival Capsule website.

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