One year makes the difference for EpiTech

Incubator participant thrives and expands

Small Business

September 24, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

It's been a good year for EpiTech.

The technology company, which became one of the first companies to enter Howard County's NeoTech incubator, overshot its year-end goals by nearly quadrupling its revenue, developed a strategy to propel itself into the million-dollar stratosphere, opened an office on the West Coast and became the toast of state and local business-development groups.

Last week, EpiTech received an award from Howard County's Economic Development Authority, and this week will become the first company to graduate from what is typically a three-year program at the incubator. NeoTech is a training ground for high-tech companies in Howard County.

"They really have been a wonderful company," said incubator director Mike Haines, who credits EpiTech with teaching his staff how to respond to fast-growing companies. "They were more mature than a typical incubator company."

And more infectious, he said.

Like many a dot-com, EpiTech has its version of a play area in the executive office - a table-top Ms. Pac-Man video game.

The company's top executives and employees can often be seen dancing to music during an afternoon break. And a sign framed in neon-pink fur hangs from a cabinet above President Anne Pettitt's desk, proclaiming her alternate title: "Diva."

"They make this place rock," Haines said. "They bring a really positive attitude. They feel like it's fun doing business and it's fun to be in business."

Although the company is 16 years old, EpiTech was a small technical writing and editing company until three years ago. That's when Pettitt and Suzanne Menard bought into the venture and brought a technology aspect - developing computer-based training programs and offering training classes in Macromedia, a software brand used in Web design.

The original owner and another partner left shortly afterward, leaving Menard and Pettitt struggling to make the business grow. They joined the NeoTech incubator in August last year in hopes that the concentrated support would make a difference.

"We had never had a company and taken it from one step to the next," said Menard, the chief financial officer. "We wanted to learn from people's mistakes."

They got what they were looking for.

Although the volunteer board of directors assigned to the company by the incubator didn't help the partners develop a strategy for growth, the staff worked wonders in bringing together the tools the company requested, Pettitt said.

And the company did pick up a strategic adviser from the incubator. Richard Hall, who regularly volunteers there, is now the company's vice president for strategic planning.

The two-woman team has grown to eight people, and EpiTech's gross revenues of $261,000 in 1999 jumped to $1 million last year. They said they expect to reach $1.3 million by the end of this year, and have already opened an office in Spokane, Wash., in hopes of expanding their reach nationwide.

After graduating from the incubator next week, they'll move into an expanded 2,300 square feet of space in the Columbia office where the training half of the business has been operating. They said it was important to unify their offices.

"We feel the need to be with the training center," Menard said. "We meet a lot of people, but Anne and I aren't getting a chance to interact with people because we're here."

The women said they'll be taking a part of the incubator with them.

"If you're willing to learn, it's a great place to be," Pettitt said. "We still have all the resources. We both feel we're OK and we've got a good basis to continue."

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