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Last Update: Wednesday September 20, 2017

Key Idea: Build On What You Know

Four business owners, Jodi Johnson and  Dave Young of Oberon, Joe Fergus of COMTek, and Mark Gross of Oak Grove Technologies, all launched a business to provide support services to our troops. They all served in the armed forces and have deep experience and passion for their work.  More...

Key Question:

A: 

Stick to what you know and look inside that niche for your place to shine.  Joe Fergus spent eight years at Bell Labs and he wanted to start his own mini-Bell.  He loved the research and development side of engineering and saw that Bell Lab was very good at what they did but he believed that there was a way to do a part of what was being done at Bell even better.  

Mark Gross didn't start his own company until he had military, Department of Justice and private sector experience.   His last job was selling software and while doing that he came up with a device idea he saw missing in the market.  He was a little bored and anxious to see if he could take his idea and build a company.

David Young and Jodi Johnson probably would never have started their own business had the company where they worked together not gone through so much turmoil.  Rather than stay in a place that grew to be so big they no longer felt they had impact, with the permission and blessing of their bosses, they spun themselves out.

All of these founders started on solid ground by leveraging their specific industry knowledge and contacts.  You may be sick and tired of your industry and want a clean slate but if you make that type of big shift, be prepared for a steep learning curve.

David and Jodi had the smoothest path to big success because the place they worked at for over 20 years helped them launch their new company.  That's like manna from heaven and water from a rock.

Think about it

In your work now, do you ever think:  I could do this better if...?  Have your current customers ever asked for some new type of product or service?  Where do your current customers seem to experience pain?  Could you reduce that pain?  Would your current company help you launch a new business?  Are there people you work with in your industry who would want to be part of a new company you form?

Clip from: Veterans Think Big

Let us celebrate and honor the contributions of our veterans. 

Washington, DC and the nation:  Defenders of freedom. Patriots.  Veterans.   These people come from every part of society and from every corner of the nation.  They get special training and they serve their country.  Some enter combat and some get injured. In one way or another, they all come home,  and are discharged or retire from the military.  Many join the workforce and begin re-creating their life with the special honors and experiences of being in the US military.

Meet four veterans who came home and started a business and each of them has become enormously successful.  They have all been creating jobs for many years now and are all highly respected within their industry.

In this episode of the show they each tell how they started companies to provide services to the military.   They explain that doing business with the federal government is different than selling goods and services to the private sector. 

All three have fast-growing businesses that range from $26 million to $70 million in annual sales.

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Four Veterans, Three businesses

Jodi Johnson and Dave Young, Oberon; Dr. Joseph E. Fergus, COMTek; and, Mark Gross, Oak Grove Technologies

Business Classification:
Government services, information technologies

Year Founded:

Build On What You Know

VOICEOVER:  Jodi Johnson,  Dave Young, Joe Fergus and Mark Gross are all veterans who have leveraged their military experience, college degrees and time in the corporate world to become founders of multi-million dollar companies.  You can learn their secrets.

JODI JOHNSON
(Oberon):  When I met with the recruiter for the very first time I remember him asking me what I want to be and I said I want to be a soldier. 

DAVE YOUNG (Oberon):  So I joined the Coast Guard because I needed to join a service and it was a great outfit.

JOE FERGUS (COMTek,):  I knew early on that I was always fascinated by science and I remember, taking a stroll around a plaza one day and I saw a big sign that was advertising the Navy and they had an oscilloscope and I was just so captivated by that component, I told myself I had to learn to use that component so I decided to enlist in the Navy and focused my tenure there on a profession that would give me access to those kinds of equipment. 

MARK GROSS (Oak Grove Technologies):  When I got out of the military I went to college.  Right after college I was recruited by the Department of Justice.  I went to work for the Justice Department for about six years.  I worked on many of the major investigations within DOJ.  My last one was the NASDAQ investigation back in the mid ‘90s. 

HATTIE  You went into the Army?

JODI:  I did in 1982 so I was twenty.  I was enlisted and I got out and I have been in the defense industry ever since.

DAVE:  There was a command and control system on the ship I was on and Mystech had gone into the business of designing that command and control system and it was a prototype and not even a production system so the Mystech founders were there on the ship making installations and upgrades and I got to know them and when my tour was over my hitch was over in the coast guard instead of returning to the FBI I joined Mystech.

JOE:  By the time I got out of the military I went straight into the engineering program at Norfolk State University.  On graduation I went directly to the University of Illinois. 

I got a Masters Degree in electrical engineering.  And then I spent about eight or nine years in Bell Laboratories which was essentially the foundation that allowed me to decide exactly what I wanted to do in business.

MARK:  I felt that I had really done everything that I wanted to do within the government and I wanted to change.  And so I wanted to challenge myself again.  And so I left government and went into Corporate America.

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