Wichita entrepreneur sued by his own former company

A Wichita entrepreneur is being sued by the company he founded.

Tahir Ahmad founded PetroPower, a company that supplies remote monitoring of oil and gas wells, as a science project in his college dorm room at Wichita State University. He was CEO of the company until Sept. 1, 2013.

Last month, PetroPower, 3595 N. Webb Road, filed suit contending that Ahmad had violated the non-compete clause in his contract, and is seeking damages of more than $75,000.

The attorney representing PetroPower, Gary Ayers of Foulston Siefkin, said the company had no comment.

Ahmad took his idea for a remote monitoring system, wrote a business plan around it and won WSU's 2008 business plan competition and its $10,000 prize. More importantly, he met mentors and investors who helped him turn his idea into a real business.

In 2008 Ahmad applied for a provisional patent on the wireless side of the technology and made his first sale in 2009. But he and his advisers spent a lot of time trying to figure out the right product, the right technology and the right market. By 2012, he had 10 employees, sales of nearly $1 million — and some pressure from his investors for faster growth. He owned 22.5 percent of the company.

He left the company on Sept. 1, 2013. According to the suit, he signed a non-compete agreement in 2009 that forbids him from operating or working for any company that competed with PetroPower within 100 miles for two years. It also forbids him from disclosing company secrets. He also signed an agreement upon termination in 2013 promising the same things, plus not to compete against PetroPower in an area of 500 miles around Wichita. That agreement also prohibits Ahmad from making disparaging comments about PetroPower.

Ahmad formed Oilmen Express, which he said provides remote monitoring for the deep water wells used by companies that need to dispose of the salt water produced by fracking oil and gas wells.

According to the suit, Ahmad has violated his non-compete agreement – by hiring the software developer used to help develop PetroPower’s software and installing a well monitoring system within the non-compete area in Oklahoma.

Ahmad, on Friday, said that, although his business is related to oil and gas drilling, water wells are different.

“It’s a different field,” he said.

He said he wants to continue to guide entrepreneurs, such as at WSU forums, but now, he said, he has some additional things to teach.

“I still want to create an environment for Wichita and Kansas entrepreneurs not to give up on their dreams,” he said.