Few businesses can claim the quick success of Bluestaq, a Colorado Springs-based defense technology contractor that won its first prime contract in its third month in business and has grown from its four founders to 27 employees in 18 months.
Seth Harvey, Andy Hofle, Simon Nunn and David Rodvold all worked together at Intelligent Software Solutions before it was acquired by Arlington Capital Partners and merged with two Washington, D.C., area defense contractors to form Polaris Alpha, which in turn was acquired last year by Parsons. The four didn't want to work for a larger company, so they did consulting work while they waited for their employment agreements with ISS to expire before forming Bluestaq in April 2018.
The founders decided to take no salary until the company won its first contract. They didn't wait long — Bluestaq received its first subcontract the month it started and a $150,000 prime contract in June 2018 with the Air Force Research Laboratory to build a data library.
Under the contract, Bluestaq incorporated satellite and telescope data collected by American and allied agencies and private companies into the service's library of space data.
"Our first office was in Catalyst Campus (a space-focused business park near downtown Colorado Springs) and that is where we met some of our first customers," Nunn said. "Catalyst is an incredible environment for startups to get on their feet and find resources. It is a good incubator for technology startups and that is where we hired Becca Decker as our chief operating officer."
Decker had been director of the Catalyst Accelerator, which specializes in helping startups focused on defense and intelligence grow and develop military technology into commercial products. She also had been Catalyst's director of marketing and campus engagement when the business park was in its early stages, after spending more than a decade with several defense contracting giants.
Bluestaq has continued to win new work from the Air Force and other defense contractors, including a 3-year, $37 million contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory to continue adding to the data library. The collection, which is called the Unified Data Library, has more than 1,000 users in 25 countries in government agencies, private companies and academic institutions.
The company also won a two-year, $3 million contract with the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center to develop an online marketplace for Department of Defense agencies to buy products that help develop and maintain space situational awareness. In other words, Bluestaq is developing an Amazon-like site for products that detect, track and identify all artificial objects in Earth orbit to avoid collisions.
"We really were an overnight success," Harvey said. "We are not backed by a large venture capital fund and are not independently wealthy. We just quit our jobs and pooled our money because we were at the point in our careers where it was time to do this or stop talking about it. It was like jumping out of an aircraft and building the parachute on the way down. It was unnerving. If you bet on yourself and work hard, you can do anything."
Bluestaq will move into new offices by February in the ground floor of the FirstBank Building downtown with options to double its space to 18,000 square feet. The company now has 27 employees and expects to reach 30 by year's end, more than 50 by the end of 2020 and 80 employees by the time it expands into the office space it has under option, Harvey said.
The company has been able to attract employees because it pays salaries that are about 30% higher than other defense contractors for equivalent positions, Harvey said. Bluestaq has tried to build a company culture, he said, where "people are rewarded both financially and personally. We want everyone here to feel appreciated as part of a team."
The Bluestaq name comes from blue as the military term for friendly forces and staq referring to a software stack — a unified assembly of components in network serving an entire organization. The company last month won the Apex Award from the Colorado Technology Association and the New Company of the Year Award from the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC.