May 26, 2013
Nearly five years after they were ousted from a previous company they started, the founders of Amergint Technologies are in the midst of a sequel they hope will be better than the original.
Sean Conway, Randy Culver and Mark McMillen were co-founders of RT Logic, a Colorado Springs-based aerospace company that designs and develops telemetry equipment along with software used by military and civilian government agencies for the testing, launch and operations of satellites. Ousted in a October 2008 management shake-up six years after they sold the company to Integral Systems Inc., Conway, Culver and McMillen joined eight others who left RT three months later to start Amergint.
RT Logic had grown to about 50 employees when it was acquired by Integral and had 150 employees generating $50 million in annual sales when the founders were forced out. Integral said in a statement at the time that "after careful consideration of the core competencies of Integral Systems and its family of companies, the management team has made some organizational changes meant to enhance Integral's leadership status in the markets it currently serves and expand into new markets."
For those ousted, it was time for a fresh start.
"We wanted to get back to a smaller company rather than work in a large company and create a new business like we did before" with RT Logic, said Culver, a systems architect for Amergint. "We believe we are more agile from a technology and customer standpoint as a smaller company."
Amergint is an employee-owned firm based in the Springs that specializes in developing and selling software for satellite ground stations. All but three of the company's 27 employees previously worked for RT Logic, and most are engineers with extensive software and aerospace industry experience.
"Four days after we got fired, we met at (Culver's) house and discussed whether we wanted to call it done, or do it again. We decided that day to do it again," said Conway, manager of Amergint. "It took quite a leap of faith, but it always does. (Amergint) was self-funded by the founders: We took loans from ourselves and have since paid all of it back."
They set up Amergint first in Culver's basement and three months later moved to the same building along Garden of the Gods Road where RT Logic got its start, but made a few key changes. While RT Logic was owned by the founders and a few key stockholders, Amergint became employee-owned this year. Before creating any products, Conway said they met with potential customers and asked them what RT Logic had done well and hadn't done well.
"They told us they wanted flexibility and automation. They felt like they always needed to call us for support and help, and they wanted to be able to do more themselves. After meeting with them, we were very encouraged to start another business," Conway said. The founders converted the company to employee ownership because they believe it makes "employees think more about customers" since they function as both an owner and an employee.
The customers Amergint's founders had met told them to contact them when they had developed their first product, but many were reluctant to be the first paying customer, Culver said. Eventually more customers embraced Amergint's technology and the company's growth accelerated, he said.
Amergint's software uses technology that is similar to that used in smartphones because software developers and even the company's customers can easily create new applications to process satellite signals that can be used on many types of computer hardware, Culver said. A key advantage to developing applications that can run on any device is that the applications can be reconfigured and reused multiple times by customers, making the software more cost-effective and efficient, he said.
"We have invested heavily in the architecture that is more software-based and moves ground control processing all to software. That gives more flexibility to the customer and makes our product reusable," Conway said. Such a strategy "lowers the development cost (for the software) by increasing the speed to market."
Amergint's strategy has paid off - the company has been profitable in both 2011 and 2012 and has nearly doubled its revenue in each year of operations, though company officials declined to reveal specific revenue and profit numbers. Customers include commercial, civilian and military agencies that install Amergint's software on high-performance servers.
The company recently upgraded systems on the International Space Station to increase data transmission rates, in part to allow the use of high-definition cameras to send images from the station back to Earth. The system began operating earlier this year. Amergint also is a subcontractor to Honeywell Inc. to deliver automated satellite ground system test equipment for the Air Force Satellite Control Network. Amergint eventually wants to adapt its technology to be used in other markets that require high-speed processing, Culver said.
"This technology allows us to use one ground system for many satellites instead of a ground system for each satellite," Culver said. "We have built software applications for every step along the way from the antenna to the control center."
Amergint's founders expect the company to grow to 40 employees within three years, but want to remain a niche player in the satellite ground control system market, Culver said.
"Our previous path down this road has shown us that growth can be painful, so we want to keep it at a manageable rate so we can keep our quality level high," McMillen said.
Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234