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Veteran-Owned Small Business Ocean Eye, Inc. Successfully Leverages Economic Development Support

Ocean Eye, Inc. (OEI) is a veteran-owned corporation formed in 2005. The company provides commercial diving equipment, services, training and repairs to the professional diving community to construct and repair piers, bridges, dams, and dock facilities on the East Coast. Key OEI customers include the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the FBI, engineering companies, public safety entities and commercial construction corporations.

Chris Gabel, the firm’s founder and president, has been diving since 1988 and salvage diving since 1995. He has participated in both public-safety diving and commercial diving. He has extensive firsthand experience in the industry as well as a long diverse background in technology. The company originated from Gabel's experiences in the U.S. Navy and his relationships with rescue, commercial and military divers. Ocean Eye, Inc. is certified by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs as a Veteran-Owned Small Business.

Researching and finding that safety issues in regards to maintenance of equipment were relatively neglected in commercial diving, he wanted to address this with his own company. Ocean Eye, Inc. was founded in 2005 to offer quality products and services focused on the professional diving industry. A recognized leader in the industry, he has written articles for diving magazines in the U.S., Canada and France. His expertise led Gabel to manufacturing innovative hot water circulation systems for cold water diving as well as water and air compressors. Ocean Eye, Inc. now offers seven internally manufactured products and will include two more in fiscal year 2018. Gabel is also a long time member of the Telford Volunteer Diving & Rescue Unit which provides search, rescue and recovery assistance to private and public agencies in water-related emergencies and an active member of the UDT (Underwater Demolition Teams) SEAL Association, which supports and raises funds for the Special Operations Community’s military members and their families.

Beyond a sterling work ethic, Gabel has successfully leveraged the resources of other economic development entities and specialists to support his business, such as the SBA, Kutztown SBDC, Chester and Berks County Economic Development Corporations and Ben Franklin Technology Partners. Ocean Eye, Inc. has grown rapidly from its inception in 2005. From a meager 600 sq. ft. with no employees to its current 6,000 sq. ft. in two buildings, the firm continues to grow and is now looking for nearly 14,000 sq. ft. to expand its own product line. The firm has introduced its own product line which includes a dive heater system, diving umbilicals, compressors, air distribution system, and a volume tank enclosure.

“I’ve appreciated the assistance of Kutztown University SBDC for the last decade and they continue to serve as our board of advisors,” Gabel said. “We’ve received assistance on exporting to Canada from Martin Brill and financial forecasting and analysis from Mark Rentschler and benefited from SBDC environmental and government consulting services. In 2016, we participated in a student study project at Lebanon Valley College with the SBDC.”

“As a start up, I faced the typical problems: a lack of capital - especially working capital, inadequate facility size and hiring trained labor in a rural setting,” Gabel said. “The lack of capital was initially addressed via an SBA guaranteed line of credit through PNC Bank and very careful cash management up to the present. We train new hires as the most advantageous method to attract talent and we’ve moved to progressively larger facilities to accommodate growth, new employees and new products and services that we have introduced.”

Ocean Eye, Inc. obtained a line of credit through SBA lending partner PNC Bank in 2006 during the firm’s startup phase and has received technical assistance from Kutztown University SBDC over the last decade.

“Kutztown University SBDC has worked with Chris over the years in a wide variety of areas including business planning, financial analysis, government procurement and exporting,” said Martin Brill, Program Manager, International Trade, Kutztown University SBDC. “He’s rightfully proud of his military service, where he served with distinction and honor. His training, service and experience helped shape his values and his business acumen to overcome the challenges of being a start-up. My colleagues at Kutztown SBDC and I continue to be impressed with Chris' character, drive and his achievements.”

Gabel, originally from Allentown, Pa. and joined the U.S. Navy in 1987. He first served aboard the USS Saratoga (CV-60) where he worked as an Aviation Boatswain's Mate. Upon the end of his initial duty station, he changed his rate focus to Gunners Mate Guns to become a small arms expert. Despite his initial resistance to a temporary assignment to computer school in Norfolk, he studied networking systems and later served with a Seabee Battalion and with Inshore Boat Unit 23 and was assigned in support to SEAL Team 2 to provide fire cover on fast boats extracting SEAL units and providing harbor security. Computer networking and conference networking skills acquired in the Navy led Gabel to civilian jobs including server team manager for PNC Bank’s mid-Atlantic region. In He learned scuba diving while in the Navy, which became his passion and led him to salvage diving after leaving service.

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Company Name: 
Ocean Eye, Inc.
Location: 
Elverson, PA