“Why is the snow falling horizontally?”
That’s the first thought Dante Battocchi had when he first stepped off the plane in Fargo.
It was January 4, 2001, he was 30 years old, and he had just flown in from his hometown of Trento, Italy, to pursue graduate studies in mechanical engineering at North Dakota State University. He knew a professor there, and thought it would be fun to “learn a little bit of English and get out of the house for a while,” he said. Just one year, he said.
But then he stepped outside into a blizzard, and found out his luggage was in Mexico City and wouldn’t come for two weeks. That week he called the airline to request a flight home.
In a conversation that determined his fate, there were no flights available. Call back later, the attendant said. He didn’t.
Now, 14 years later, Dante is local entrepreneur who co-founded Elinor Specialty Coatings with his wife Holly Anderson Battocchi (a Fargo native), taught many years as a professor at NDSU, and is an active member of downtown Fargo.
“One year turned into three, three turned into six, and six turned into forever,” he said with a laugh. “I stopped counting a while ago.”
Starting Elinor Specialty Coatings
Dante is an expert in material engineering. He has a Doctorate in Materials Engineering and defended a MS in Coatings and Polymeric Materials in November 2003, while also conducting research in corrosion protection, coating characterization via electrochemical testing, and in local corrosion.
Basically he’s a pretty smart guy. Which is why he realized he could use his research to start a company on his own. Together with his wife Holly, they founded Elinor Specialty Coatings in 2007.
The company sells protective metal coatings against rust and other types of wear. Their product line consists of protectors for bronze, magnesium, and aluminum metals, which can be used in a variety of ways – from preserving historical works of art, to manufacturing American-made magnesium products.
Currently, the Battocchi’s have finished with research and development and have their products on the market. They are selling to a few customers slowly but surely, which “feels very satisfying,” Dante said.
For Dante, starting a business in Fargo was a better option than in Italy because there are less hoops to jump through in the United States, he said. For him personally, NDSU helped get him the paperwork he needed to stay. And of course, he got married.
“You have to be very accomplished in your field…or you get married to somebody that is an American citizen,” he said. “So I did both.”
Why he stays
Dante still misses Italy. His family, the birthdays, the Italian food. Every now and then, particularly in January and February, he and Holly create a pros and cons list about where they are living now and what it would be like if they moved. And so far, Fargo continues to win them over.
“When we think about leaving, we think about how we are leaving friends, a good community, and the neighbors,” he said.
In the beginning, when he was still counting the years, one the main factors that kept him in Fargo was his sense that this was a city of growth.
“I could see that there was stuff coming here, stuff happening, that we were growing. We were getting cool,” he said with a laugh.”The first time we came down here there were a couple bars. Most of the other stuff was boarded up. Now it’s much better.”
As entrepreneurs, he and Holly appreciate the openness of the community as well, he said. With events like 1 Million Cups and a growing startup community overall, they feel “very much less alone,” Dante said. Especially coming from a research industry, where people can get extremely protective, Dante found an honesty here that allowed them to grow their business.
“That’s what’s unique about this place,” he said. “In other business communities, everyone is a little bit more guarded. Here you can keep your intellectual property protected, but you can have a discussion about how to do things, and how to set up things, and who to go and talk to.”
So for now, he and Holly are committed to Fargo. That will be true until they feel there is no more room to grow, he said.
“If you’ve exhausted everything you need to do in a place, it’s time to go,” he said. “Me and Holly…we still have to do a few things before we go.”
Photos courtesy of Dante Battocchi and Marisa Jackels.