Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Solar Firm Leads Way For Maryland On Growth List

The Great Recession didn’t exactly put a damper on business at Astrum Solar.

Sales at the Annapolis Junction company, which provides residential solar generating systems, soared to $26.9 million in 2011 from $113,660 in 2008.

That skyrocketing growth landed Astrum Solar at the No. 2 spot on Inc. magazine’s annual list of the nation’s fastest-growing privately held companies.

Astrum was among the 20 Maryland companies that made the new list, which is based on job creation and revenue growth during the preceding three years.

“The credit goes mostly to our people and what they’ve been able to do,” said Michelle Walgeir, vice president of marketing for Astrum Solar. “We’ve grown from one place in Maryland to having offices across six states.”

Astrum Solar was founded in 2007 and racked up its first revenues in 2008, making 2012 its first year eligible for the Inc. list. The company, with 170 employees, was the top energy business on the list.

The solar industry’s growth in recent years, especially at a time when people were seeking more secure investments than real estate, contributed to Astrum Solar’s success, Walgeir said.

“We really are a very focused business,” she said. “We do one thing and try to do it very well.”

Astrum Solar also has an active online marketing presence with a solar calculator on its website that allows people to determine pricing before they even speak to a representative.

“But the biggest tool has been the referral of other happy customers,” Walgeir said. “There’s a lot to navigate in solar. We try to make it easy and seamless.”

Astrum Solar still is looking for new markets in states with good solar environments, she said.

Having a Maryland company in the No. 2 spot on one of these national lists is encouraging, said Ursula Powidzki, assistant secretary of the business and entrepreneurial development division with the state’s Department of Business and Economic Development. She added that the department has been working with Astrum Solar.

“Our representation on the Inc. 500 has been pretty healthy and consistent over several years,” she said.

This year, the number of Maryland companies making the list increased to 20 from 17 in 2011, including two businesses whose rankings rose from last year.

“It’s a promising recognition of young business in the state, but it’s also a narrow slice of all businesses that are doing well and growing,” Powidzki said.

She also emphasized the industry diversity in both the Inc. 500 and Inc. 5000 lists, including a construction company, Daytner Construction of Mount Airy, in the top 500. Having a construction company show significant growth these days is especially noteworthy, Powidzki said.

Marketing analytics ‘growing super rapidly’

Making the Inc. 500 has been Ben Landers’ dream since he launched Blue Corona, an advertising and marketing company in Gaithersburg. Landers’ early career involved working with executives whose companies also had made the list.

Blue Corona was ranked No. 174 this year, increasing its revenues to $2.1 million in 2011 from $100,098 in 2008.

The recession helped Blue Corona grow, as more businesses sought cheaper ways to market themselves, Landers said. Blue Corona uses a data-driven focus to track advertising down to the sale level and provide a “true” return on investment, he said.

“We think of the Web as real estate. Building on the Web is cheap compared to physical real estate,” he said. “You can concentrate on search engine optimization and establishing multiple websites.”

Blue Corona plans to double its work force of 30 in the next six to 12 months, Landers said.

“This whole marketing analytics industry is growing super rapidly,” he said.

M-Edge Accessories, an Odenton company that sells fashionable protection cases for mobile devices, also enjoyed its first year on the list, taking the No. 91 spot. The company reported $37.2 million in sales for 2011, up from $1.1 million in 2008.

The surge in the mobile device market and M-Edge’s unique product contributed to its growth, said spokeswoman Sarah Windham.

“We’re humble but extremely proud. The list has never been more competitive, especially in such a difficult economic situation,” she said, adding that M-Edge hopes to offer new products.

M-Edge employs 80 and currently is hiring, Windham said.

Tista Science and Technology, a cybersecurity company in Rockville, was among the companies increasing their ranks from last year, shooting up to No. 253 from No. 459 and reporting $10 million in revenues for 2011. Tista contracts primarily with the government but also does some commercial work with companies such as Cisco.

Much of Tista’s growth came as a result of its investment in hiring qualified executives and pursuing certifications, said Ahmed R. Ali, president of Tista.

Tista prides itself on operating as a large business, with various executives heading different departments and divisions, while Ali provides the budget. The company employs 135 people and hopes to increase that by as many as 50 this year, he said.

Although Tista has not engaged in heavy marketing due to costs, the company focuses on its core capabilites of cybersecurity and health care, both of which saw funding increases during the last three years.

Tista’s next goal is to become a mid-stage company, seeking contracts without set-asides, Ali said.

Maryland’s performance on the annual list jibes with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s recent ranking of Maryland as No. 1 in entrepreneurship and innovation, said Kathleen T. Snyder, CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

“I think the Inc. 500, including 20 Maryland businesses and one at No. 2, clearly upholds the U.S. chamber’s ranking,” Snyder said. “We are an entrepreneurial state. It’s the strength of our economy.”

Source: http://www.gazette.net/article/20120824/NEWS/708249606/1124/solar-firm-leads-way-for-maryland-on-growth-list&template=gazette

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