Five small business owners, four small business champions and a lender have been selected by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for outstanding success in their chosen fields.
Charles “Chach” Curtis Jr. CEO of Draker Laboratories, Inc., Burlington, Vermont has been named the SBA 2012 Vermont Small Business Person of the Year. Nominated by Cairn Cross, Managing Director, Fresh Tracks Capital, Curtis was selected for outstanding leadership related to his company’s staying power, employee growth, increase in sales, innovative ingenuity and contributions to the community.
Draker Laboratories, Inc., Burlington VT, provides monitoring, diagnostics and asset management services to commercial and utility-scale renewable energy systems. After pioneering the concept and cutting-edge means of evaluating solar power generation, Draker Laboratories, Burlington, VT, had a well-deserved reputation for technical leadership. The company’s founder, A.J. Rossman, had worked with one of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s resource partners, the VT Small Business Development Center, receiving information and counseling on the Small Business Innovation Research Program. Following its founding in 1999, and for several years, it remained a scrappy startup with mixed success in an emerging industry and challenging market.
In 2009, Charles “Chach” Curtis joined Draker Labs as its new CEO. Curtis restructured every aspect of the business in a dynamic stream of change producing commensurate growth at every turn. Curtis expanded product and service offerings, broadened the customer base to include global energy developers like Johnson Controls, Chevron Energy Solutions, ConEdison Development, BP Solar, and Siemens Energy Technologies, and increased Draker’s staff from 8 to 47 employees.
In addition, Curtis raised more than $5.5 million to support the company’s rapid growth: $3.5 million of new private equity capital; $525,000 of state and federal debt financing from the Vermont Economic Development Authority and ARRA; and a $1.5 million credit facility. Under the leadership of Chach Curtis, Draker Labs posted two consecutive years of more than 250% revenue growth and is projecting another year of triple-digit growth in 2012. The company is currently delivering products and services to the largest solar project ever built in Canada.
As a former renewable energy developer himself, Curtis understood well the needs of Draker customers. Propelling the company’s rapid growth were several key insights, including the creation of tiered product and service offerings at escalating price/value points for each segment; expanding the company’s focus on selling value-added software services; anticipating the growth in large, utility scale solar power plants and championing Draker’s design of monitoring solutions to meet the requirements of these more complex utility-scale projects.
Further, Curtis realized customers are not adequately trained to understand Draker’s sophisticated performance analysis tools. With this in mind, he led the development of a network operations center to monitor, interpret, troubleshoot and recommend solutions to customers. The operations center also represents a new source of revenue and profit that will accelerate the company’s positive earnings. These and other Curtis initiatives have increased Draker’s domestic market share three-fold, from under 10% in 2009 to 25% today.
Under Curtis’s leadership, the company tripled its office space in Vermont to 12,000 sq. ft. and opened a new West Coast office in California. Draker Labs also plans to open a New Jersey office by the end of the year. The company also expects to continue adding to its employee base. The company’s 2012 budget calls for hiring an additional 45 employees, which would bring total staffing to a projected 92 by year-end 2012. Approximately 15 of these new positions are already posted for immediate hire.
Throughout this rapid evolution, Curtis provided exceptional leadership and turned the company around by changing its organizational structure, providing clarity, raising private capital and delivering record growth. In fact, Draker quickly became a leader in Vermont’s “green economy” by providing high-paying, sustainable jobs in the fast-growing renewable energy market. Many of Draker’s recent hires, including top engineers and software developers both locally and from around the country, were attracted by the company’s entrepreneurial culture, rapid growth, market position and prospects for continued success.
According to Curtis, Draker Labs promotes a company culture that encourages and values employee contributions to local communities. Each quarter, Draker sponsors a specific community project, event or charity and encourages employees to contribute time, resources and/or money to support the cause. Past projects/events include: Penguin Plunge (a February swim in Lake Champlain) to raise money for the Special Olympics; food drives to benefit the Chittenden County Emergency Food Shelf, Coats for Kids, Toys for Tots, and the Art Hop, a local event that allows artists to showcase their art. In addition, Curtis also gives employees two days of paid time off per year for volunteer services supporting a charity of their choice.
Curtis himself is an active and respected member of his local and business community and regularly volunteers his time to serve on local boards, mentor new entrepreneurs, and coach ski programs for kids. He is also a regular financial contributor to numerous state and national environmental organizations and children’s advocacy groups.
Mr. Curtis will compete for the national title at National Small Business Week ceremonies in Washington, D.C. May20 -22, 2012. Mr. Curtis will be locally honored by the U.S. Small Business Administration on June 14th at a ceremony presented by Vermont Business Magazine in the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn, Shelburne, Vermont.
The June 14th Vermont Small Business Award celebration will also honor the following winners of the 2012 Small Business Awards:
Financial Services Champion
Vermont Economic Development Authority
Jo Bradley, CEO on behalf of the VEDA Team
Small Business Exporter
Joel Melnick, President, Nathaniel Group, Inc.
Home-Based Business Champion
Simeon Geigel, Small Business Development Specialist, CVOEO Micro Business Development Program
Jeffrey Butland Family-Owned Small Business
James Mount and Karen Mount, Owners, Westaff
Women In Business Champion
Sarah S. Spencer, Founder/President, Got Clicks?
Andrew Boutin, General Manager, Pellergy, LLC
Vermont Community/Rural Lender
Passumpsic Savings Bank
Bob Bishop, Executive Vice President on behalf of the Passumpsic Team
St, Johnsbury, Vermont
Vermont Special Award for Disaster Assistance
Linda Rossi, Associate State Director, Vermont Small Business Development Center