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Startup has Sky-High Aspirations for Roadable Aircraft

An aviation enthusiast's invention leaps from the road to the wild blue yonder.

This story appears in the January 2012 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Entrepreneur: Carl Dietrich, co-founder of Terrafugia, a Woburn, Mass.-based company that's developing The Transition "roadable aircraft." (It's a flying car!)

"Aha" moment: In 2004, the Federal Aviation Administration eased regulations related to developing light sport aircraft and acquiring licenses for operating them. "That's what got me thinking about doing something entrepreneurial in aviation," says Dietrich, Terrafugia's CEO and CTO, who got his bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. In 2006, he and his co-founders (three of the original five remain with the company) launched Terrafugia--the name is Latin for "escape the earth."

Taking off: Terrafugia was initially funded with $40,000 after Dietrich won the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Inventiveness and the company's business plan was a runner-up in the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. The team brought a model of the concept to Wisconsin's EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the largest annual U.S. gathering of aviation enthusiasts, and convinced seven people to put down deposits on vehicles. In December 2006, Terrafugia closed on a $250,000 first round of investment. In 2009, The Transition completed flight tests in Plattsburgh, N.Y. To date, Terrafugia has brought in more than $7 million from angel investors and others.

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