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Transfinder CEO Maps Route to Small Business Success

For Antonio Civitella, emigrating from Italy at the age of nine with his family meant a new world of opportunities. Civitella’s passion for computers and persistent nature turned a college internship into a career as an innovative entrepreneur. Civitella eventually became the owner of Transfinder Corporation in 2000, developing the Schenectady-based company into an international provider of state-of-the-art software for intelligent transportation systems. 

In 1988, Civitella was a computer science and software engineering student at Siena College and his advisor approached him with an unconventional internship opportunity.  At the time, software development on PCs was uncommon but Forth & Associates in Schenectady needed an intern to assist in developing a PC-based software product. Civitella began the internship during his sophomore year and worked on software that managed schedules and logistics for visiting nurses. The finished product couldn’t find success in the healthcare market, and though he was faced with the possible end of the internship, Civitella wasn’t ready to accept failure. 

He persuaded CEO Jim Forth to return to a concept for school bus logistics that the company had copyrighted but never pursued. Forth agreed and Civitella continued his internship through his senior year. The school bus software Civitella helped take from concept to commercial product became a success and the small company found its footing. After graduation in 1991, Civitella joined the company as a full-time systems analyst and helped sign the first customer, Schenectady City Schools. Believing in his father’s traditional Italian proverb “The eyes of the owner fatten his horse”, Civitella purchased shares slowly to build his stake in the company, reaching 35 percent ownership by his late 20s. At the end of 2000 Civitella bought the rest of the company from Forth to become the sole owner. 

 “January 1, 2001 was such a great moment. There were seven employees and the company was starting to move faster and faster. Nine months later, the world completely changed. 9/11 happened. That was my first real experience of being an owner, figuring out alternative ways to keep the company going,” recounts Civitella. 

Civitella had found success promoting Transfinder software to school districts as a way to manage data in an era of large school budgets. But the shock to the economy from September 11th led the company to pivot, becoming an early adopter in online customer sales and service, selling its software over the Internet rather than face to face in an effort to reduce costs to both Transfinder and its clients.  During the Great Recession, Transfinder pivoted again, this time highlighting its software as a way to cut costs as well as maximize safety and service.   

Civitella built the business with the flagship product that offers K-12 school districts the ability to streamline bus routes with real-time data, ensuring student safety while reducing vehicle mileage and fuel costs.  Transfinder also has developed Busfinder GPS software and Infofinder mobile, the first mobile app for student transportation. Today over 1,500 clients in North America, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean rely on Transfinder’s intuitive software to provide safe, efficient and cost-effective solutions. Transfinder’s substantial growth has been recognized by Inc. as one of the fastest growing 5,000 private U.S. companies for the past seven consecutive years. The original 5,000-square-foot location grew unsuitable as Civitella’s staff nearly doubled over the past three years, growing from 45 to 80 full-time employees. 

“As a small business owner, you have to constantly think what if, what are the risk factors. As the leader of the company, there are a lot of people I believe I’m responsible for. So when I make a decision, it’s not just affecting me and my family but also potentially 100 other families,” says Civitella. 

To accommodate its growing workforce, Transfinder built its new 30,000-square-foot headquarters with the help of SBA 504 financing from NBT Bank and ESCDC in 2013. Civitella designed the $7 million building to be more than just four walls, offering the best working environment for his employees where his team can collaborate to create the innovative software products of the future. The modern beauty of the building impresses new clients while the hi-tech functionality allows the company to offer in-house client training, called Transfinder University, for the first time. 

“Hosting Transfinder University at our new headquarters is a milestone for our company,” says Civitella. “This is one of the reasons why I decided to have this fully modern headquarters built. We are excited about bringing a select group of clients to our office, where they will be able to meet and interact with their account managers and tech support. We are honored to see clients coming from as far away as New Mexico, Indiana and Ohio, knowing that they see the value in getting the most out of Transfinder’s products.” 

The building’s location is particularly meaningful to Civitella since downtown Schenectady is where his family first lived when they arrived from Italy. Although he could have relocated his company anywhere, Civitella is committed to staying headquartered in Upstate New York. Civitella plans to open a satellite office in Austin in the first quarter of 2015, with 10 employees providing customer service to the estimated 20 percent of clients located in Texas. In addition to his software company, Civitella has launched a technology accelerator in downtown Schenectady. His goal for NYBizLab is to provide resources and low-cost rental space to local talented entrepreneurs who might otherwise move to Silicon Valley. In October 2014, the NYBizLab was awarded a $300,000 grant from the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority. With his small business success and contributions to the local community, it’s little wonder Civitella is SBA Syracuse District Office’s Small Business Person of the Year for 2014.