The 2013 Fast 50: where it’s personal, but still all business

The fastest growing small-businesses in the government market share stories of personal, business success

There are personal stories and business stories, and the 2013 Washington Technology Fast 50 list is full both.

From No. 1 OBXtek Inc. to No. 50 Triumph Enterprises Inc., you have stories of founders making sacrifices and taking risks to follow a dream. You also have savvy executives who are taking advantage of small business programs and leveraging past work experience.

CLICK HERE to see the entire Fast 50 rankings.

But mostly, you have both because in the small business world, success is measured in both personal terms and with dollars and cents.

For the 2013 Fast 50, the annual rankings are based on five years of revenue, which are used to calculate a compound annual growth rate. The companies are then ranked according to that growth rate, or CAGR. Companies are not ranked according to their overall revenue.

That’s why a company like OBXtek, with $29.6 million in 2012 revenue, but a CAGR of 302.9 percent, is ranked No. 1, while No. 32 ThunderCat Technology with $216.4 million in 2012 revenue is ranked No. 32 with a CAGR of 65.45 percent.

Eligibility for the rankings also is based on being considered a small business by the federal government, either purely by size, or by participating in one of the government’s small business programs, such as being an 8(a), veteran-owned, HUBZone or women-owned business.

The first thing you notice about OBXtek is its name, and when you dig into that, you discover both a personal story and a business decision.

The company started as a one-man shop by founder Bruce “Ed” Jesson, and he was looking for a way to get his company noticed.

“It dawned on me that up in the Northern Virginia/Maryland area, you’ve got 10,000 people with these bumper stickers that say OBX,” Jesson said, so naming the company OBXtek was a good way to get the name out there.

But behind the savvy marketing move is the fact that Jesson owns a beach house in the Outer Banks, and he uses the house as a rewarded for employees.

“We provide our employees, especially some of the ones that go way beyond the call of duty, a week down at the beach house for themselves and their families,” he said.

At SAVA Workforce Solutions Inc., No. 4 with a CARG of 156.3 percent, Chris Jenkins isn’t the founder, but he may as well be. He was brought in as the leader of the company in 2006 when it had only four employees.

His business story includes the decision to join a very small company with two small contracts that was struggling to grow.

Step one was refocusing the company to concentrate on solutions and subject matter expertise in law enforcement, the Defense Department and the intelligence community. “We did that because that’s the community we understand,” he said.

Jenkins is a 13-year veteran of the Army, where he was a special agent-in-charge in the investigative division where he worked in contract fraud and was involved with the intelligence community. That background has driven SAVA’s focus on defense, intelligence and law enforcement customers.

Susan Kidd, founder and CEO of DRT Strategies Inc., No. 30 with a CAGR of 70.9 percent, shares a similar story in that her company also has found success in keeping focused on what it does best, and avoiding distractions.

In the case of DRT Strategies, Kidd knew that the part she liked best about management consulting was getting projects across the finish line and delivering results. When the opportunity came to start her own company, she jumped at the chance, even though owning her own company was never part of a career plan for her, she said.

“It was all good timing,” she said. She launched her company when a former co-worker, who had started his own company, was looking for a subcontractor.

That her company blossomed from there is part of the personal story for Kidd. Her parents divorced when she was 12, and Kidd took on several adult responsibilities as she had to help her Korean-born mother navigate English and U.S. culture.

But Kidd is quick to point to her mother, who worked as seamstress in a factory when Kidd was growing, as being a critical element of her success with DRT. “I give her a lot of credit. She was in a tough circumstance, and she definitely instilled a strong work ethic in us,” Kidd said.

While the personal stories may vary from company to company on the Fast 50, one common element, besides success, emerges on the business side, and that’s a desire to be an independent company.

“I wanted the ability to design my own career,” said Matt Dean, president of Markon Solutions, No. 39 with a CAGR of 57.26 percent. “I didn’t want other people to limit my success.”

That sentiment has been a guiding principle for the company’s culture. “Everybody has the opportunity to be a leader,” he said.

An independent streak is critical in today’s market, as small business struggle against tight budgets and a slower flow of new opportunities.

Executives reported seeing smaller contracts being consolidated into larger ones, and even if they are still tagged as small-business opportunities, the larger size is making small businesses focus more on teaming and partnerships.

The tighter market also makes it imperative that companies focus on customers and core capabilities.

“If you can understand your customer-base, that’s where it is at,” said SAVA’s Jenkins.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

Reader Comments

Mon, Sep 30, 2013 kay MIdwest

Senator McCaskill can pat herself on the back now. While I congratulate these companies on their achievements, I am assuming that each company has 2 or 3 owners. That equates to 100 or 150 individual owners of these 8a businesses. Alaska Native Corporations and Tribes have thousands of owners as community based 8a. Thanks to McCaskill the scholarships and other benefits that have lifted thousands of Native communities in the past are now struggling to exist. However, now she is focused on pushing your audit, so beware.

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