Wife-CEO grows sales 3,791%

Proteus changed its focus and leader to be ranked Md.'s top revenue-gaining tech firm

October 12, 2005|By WILLIAM PATALON III | WILLIAM PATALON III,SUN REPORTER

When it was first formed in 1999, Proteus Technologies LLC was named after an ancient Greek sea god whose gifts were an ability to change form and foretell the future. It has lived up to its namesake.

Six years later, the Columbia company has changed its focus, hired the wife of a founder as chief executive and seen its revenue soar nearly 3,800 percent.

Yesterday, the privately held firm - now entrenched in the homeland-security software business - was named Maryland's fastest-growing high-tech company over the past five years.

It now ranks No. 1 in the newest Maryland Technology Fast 50 list, the annual survey that ranks state-based companies by revenue growth.

The Maryland Fast 50 list was compiled by accounting firm DeLoitte & Touche LLP, in conjunction with the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.

With $4.67 million in revenue last year, the company is one of the smaller on the Fast 50 list. But its five-year growth rate of 3,791 percent secured it the No. 1 spot.

"The successes of Proteus Technologies [make it] one of the very few to accomplish such a fast growth rate," said Andrew Harrs, who heads DeLoitte's technology, media and telecommunications practice in the Southeast.

The Fast 50 rankings are based on percentage revenue growth from 2000 to 2004. Companies must have had operating revenue of at least $50,000 in 2000 and $1 million in 2004, and have corporate headquarters in Maryland. (The Fast 50 lists were done this year in 14 tech-heavy states. Generally, at least 200 companies have to be in the running to end up with 50 qualified companies, DeLoitte said.)

Founded in 1999, Proteus served as a second job for the three founders, all software engineers.

Co-founder Charles T. Taylor, 42, currently executive vice president, remembers choosing the company name to embrace the virtues of flexibility and resolve after reading that the ancient Greek sea god had the ability to change into many forms allowing him to adapt to almost any situation. The company's first project was a software program for the Palm VII, a hand-held wireless device.

While the project was successful, there was no follow-on business, and no other contracts in the hopper. Taylor and his partners, James Birchfield and Steven J. Bradtke, stuck to their day jobs.

The company went dormant for more than a year. Then, Taylor, convinced that the company had potential, decided to focus on the business full time. Mindful of the Proteus namesake, Taylor shifted both its form and focus, making it a federal contractor.

Taylor's wife, Teresa M. Taylor, 41, succeeded him as CEO. The move not only took advantage of her attention to detail and software-engineering talents, it also allowed the company to capitalize on federal-contracting initiatives designed to benefit small companies headed by women or minorities.

The two had met in North Carolina while Teresa Taylor, an Atlanta native, was working in the information-systems office at the University of North Carolina medical school, and married in 1997. By the time Teresa Taylor took over as CEO in October 2001, they were expecting the first of their two sons. Today, four years later, the Taylors are expecting their third child, a daughter.

When it re-formed, the company had just two employees - Taylor and his wife, who remain the sole owners. Today it has nearly 60 employees, including Bradtke, a Ph.D. who serves as principal scientific officer, and Birchfield, now head of the company's mentor-protM-igM-i program.

Returning to Proteus "was the best thing I could have done," Birchfield said.

Proteus is profitable, though the Taylors declined to disclose numbers. In its new incarnation, the company serves the challenging signal intelligence market.

Charles Taylor said the nature of its business requires the company to be circumspect about what it does. In general terms, Proteus creates software that helps customers collect, organize and analyze signals data. Proteus can work with the government agencies directly, but more often works through prime contractors.

Proteus is a beneficiary of the growing homeland-security market. Federal spending in the field is estimated to reach $9.5 billion in fiscal 2006 for private-sector companies, according to Civitas Group, a strategic investment and advisory firm in Washington, D.C.

And while many of these spending programs existed before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the homeland-security initiative has given them more visibility and clearer focus - all good for companies such as Proteus, said Mark Shaheen, a Civitas principal.

"This is a very interesting marketplace to be involved in right now," Shaheen said, noting the spending impact is going to be "huge."

Teresa Taylor said the company anticipates strong growth.

"We certainly have solid expectations," she said. "We've spent a lot of our effort getting the best people we can" - more than 80 percent of the technical staff has advanced degrees-masters' or Ph.D.s - in engineering or related technical fields. Turnover is below 5 percent.

As a couple, the Taylors said they each bring complementary strengths to their jobs. Charles Taylor focuses on new business development, working to keep tabs on marketplace trends that could one day translate into new contracts for Proteus.

Teresa Taylor, by contrast, is actively involved in the company's software-development programs, taking very much a "hands-on" approach, both say.

"She makes sure all the I's are dotted and the T's crossed," he said. "It's no secret that's why [Proteus] has really taken off."

bill.patalon@baltsun.com

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