Second-stage business success stories
How five Florida businesses grew despite a slow economy.
[Photo: Brook Pifer]
"Because we're small, we don't need a $100-million contract to survive."
- Elizabeth Burch, CEO
2010 Revenue: $4.6 million (up from $279,753 in 2007)
Employees: 31 (up from seven three years ago)
The military's commitment to providing life-like training for troops headed into war zones has helped fuel revenue growth of more than 800% at Dignitas Technologies over the past several years, earning the company a spot on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies.
At any one time, the modeling and simulation software firm has between 15 and 20 contracts ranging from $60,000 to some worth a few million dollars, says CEO and majority owner Elizabeth Burch, who joined the firm in 2009 after working on similar systems at SAIC.
Dignitas' developers, including many recruited from the University of Central Florida, work on everything from software that interfaces with real equipment in mock combat scenarios to "virtual" domain, which involves real people in simulators. "We put them in Afghanistan. When they look out the top of that tank hatch they see that terrain and they know how to interact and maneuver on that," Burch says.
Dignitas also is developing software to work with mobile devices that would provide soldiers with better geo-specific information about their environment. The tools will allow soldiers to change the way an area is portrayed to better reflect what's actually there — if a new building has been constructed or a bridge is gone, for example.
Burch says being a small player has its advantages. In particular, her firm has been able to generate a lot of business through the Small Business Innovation Research programs, which are sponsored by the federal government and aimed at businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Also, the firm's size means it isn't as vulnerable to budget cuts. "Because we're small, we don't need a $100-million contract to survive. If we get $100,000 to $1 million, we're doing good as a small business."