At the end of his first year selling office technology, Kent Carlson had plowed through his savings and had only sold one printer.
He made $20 that year.
Just as he was questioning the future of his little company, Jenco Technologies, he landed a contract with the Department of Energy. He now had reason to hang on.
That was 10 years ago, and growth for the Colorado Springs company has been rising ever since. It expects to exceed $10 million in revenue next year.
Carlson and his wife Jennifer started Jenco in their Provo, Utah home. Two years later, they were joined by partners Dan and Cumorah McOmber, who worked out of their home in Colorado Springs. Dan McOmber, who had worked for Lockheed Martin, was well connected in the defense industry. By 2006, Carlson had moved the business to the Springs.
One of Carlson’s most successful moves was dropping the resale of smaller office items such as computers and printers and zeroing in on satellite communications, which it now provides for 6,000 customers including the military, the federal government, broadcasters and educators.
Carlson’s 11-member staff works to get companies linked to satellites through fiber optic devices, such as antennas, waveguides and other communications equipment.
And, even as business with the private sector dipped in the past two years, contracts with the military have increased.
“The fortunate thing for us is we are very defense-centric — that has been an advantage for us in these slower times,” Carlson said.
Jenco Technologies has been propelled, too, by its location in a Historically Underutilized Business Zone, commonly referred to as a HUBZone, a designation the U.S. Small Business Administration created to entice companies to locate in low-income areas and employ people who live in those areas.
Jenco is located at 3720 Sinton Road, near the intersection of Interstate 25. Thirty-five percent of its staff lives in the area. There are about a dozen HUBZone businesses in Colorado Springs.
Government agencies and large defense contractors prioritize contracting with HUBZone businesses to stimulate urban employment, said SBA spokeswoman Tiffani Clements.
“When people hear there is a HUBZone company, and they are working in high-tech industry, it perks ears,” Carlson said.
But while the HUBZone designation opens some doors, Carlson said Jenco must still compete on price and performance.
He found that in addition to buying its products, customers wanted help designing entire communications systems. He now has engineers on board to work with customers when they are plotting their communications needs, he said.
“We are moving into larger contracts where we present total solutions,” Carlson said. “We now have engineering capabilities to be able to make these solutions for customers — this is the big growth for Jenco.”
Seizing on that growth, Jenco launched a new testing and measurement division in July, which is already on track to bring in more than $1 million in revenue by year’s end. Carlson hired four employees this year and expects to make additional hires in the coming year.
Jenco Technologies is a distributor of Emcore products and Agilent technologies — two big names in the fiber-optics industry.
Jim Carney, who had worked for Agilent for 15 years and now heads up Jenco’s test and measurement division, said Jenco has become an expert in marrying a variety of products to build custom communication systems.
“One thing I’m really enjoying is that there is not a lot of people saying ‘No, you can’t do that,’ “ Carney said. “In big business there are so many different layers of management and decision-making that if the customer has a request or need, it oftentimes it goes nowhere.”