Former Army officers now Web entrepreneurs

Former Army officers Ed McDaries and Clarence Briggs already had talked seriously about founding some kind of Internet company back in 1995 when suddenly McDaries was plucked from a training class at Fort Bragg, N.C., and sent to Bosnia.

But McDaries' departure did not cool Briggs' Internet fever, and neither did being thrown out of every bank in town. By the time McDaries returned in February 1996, Briggs was fast at work—out of his bedroom—building a start-up World Wide Web site design business.

After leaving the Army, McDaries joined Briggs' Advanced Internet Technologies Inc. venture, based in Fayetteville, N.C., and McDaries made the company's first sale. But the young company made an important shift away from design at that point, when Briggs recognized that Web hosting offered more opportunity.

Now AIT operates out of a place only a soldier could love. Its 4,000-square-foot data center with 8-inch-thick walls is equipped with layers of alarms and is under armed guard 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Briggs believes that the understanding of security that all soldiers learn cannot be attained through other educational opportunities, and he counts that understanding as a chief asset for AIT. The firm has grown to 50 employees, 80 percent of whom are former military employees.

"We are not some kids that are working for an [Internet service provider] who have access to your mail server," Briggs said. "Most of the folks here have worked in the military or in a government capacity. They know the ramifications of that information getting out."

AIT turned a profit last year equal to 25 percent of its revenue, which Briggs said runs in the multimillion-dollar range. The company is privately held, with Briggs, McDaries and six other former Army officers comprising the management.

AIT hosts about 50,000 Web sites—a number that grows by about 200 every month. Only a few of the sites are for agencies, but Briggs and McDaries hope to explore more federal opportunities, especially with military agencies.

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