TechWise CEO places focus on Middle East

Shawnee Huckstep will live overseas with her family nine months a year, returning in summer.

Shawnee Huckstep will live overseas with her family nine months a year, returning in summer.

The leader of Springs-based defense contractor TechWise plans to move her family and a large portion of her executive staff overseas to focus on the global arm of her business.

TechWise President and CEO Shawnee Huckstep said that she will be moving in late August to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with her husband, Chief Technology Officer Arran Huckstep, and their three children so that they can be together while she concentrates on TechWise Global in Dubai.

The family will spend two nine-month school years living in the emirate and will return to their home in Colorado Springs each summer, she said.

“We’re keeping our house here and our business is here, but we’re going over there for the school year,” she said. “The main reason is because for the past three years I’ve been spending 50 percent of my time over there and 50 percent of my time here. I’m tired of not being with my family — I don’t want to have to sacrifice my time with my kids anymore.”

Another major factor was the long-term effects of competition and federal sequestration: The United States market is more competitive and the Middle East is a hotbed for her line of work.

“Right now, in Colorado Springs, there’s just not a lot of opportunity for our business to grow — there’s a ton of opportunity over there,” she said.

“So we still love Colorado, we still have our business here, but our business in the Middle East has much more potential for growth.”

Local offices staying open

In the meantime, the Colorado Springs offices will remain open for business. TechWise also has offices in California, Georgia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington.

Although the company started in software development in 1994, TechWise now specializes in defense and support services, emergency management and various types of consulting to government and commercial clients.

TechWise, which has acquired nine contracts in the UAE since going global in 2010, “is on track to do $35 million in 2013,” Huckstep said. That is a substantial gain from the $17 million it made in 2012 and marks the company’s third year doubling revenues.

The company has also grown internally and now employs around 200 workers — half at the seven U.S. locations and half at the Gulf Region Headquarters in Dubai.

“I think that the Middle East is going to be the real economic gateway for the world over the next 20 years,” she said. “We’ve got a really good momentum going. I think it’s very much like the United States was 50 years ago.”

The UAE has experienced an enormous upturn in economic prosperity since Abu Dhabi began exporting oil in the early 1960s, and was also ranked the 14th-best nation in the world in which to do business by the World Bank Group in 2011. And while U.S. sequestration has cut homeland defense spending by 10 percent, NPR’s Larry Abramson reports that Saudi Arabia and UAE plan to double theirs in the next decade.

Aerospace Industries Association spokesman Dan Stohr wouldn’t comment directly about TechWise, because it’s not a member, but he said the focus on global marketing is ubiquitous in the field.

“In the face of increasing downward pressure on domestic national security budgets, many of AIA’s member companies are looking aggressively at alternative sources of revenue,” Stohr said. “In the defense arena, industry as a whole is looking to expand space and defense exports…”

Looking to diversify

TechWise began as a software development company before switching to information technology in 2001, and eventually expanded to military training support in 2006. But after the company began contracting with the Department of Defense, the Iraq war started winding down and Huckstep started looking for a bigger pond.

“About five years ago we started looking to diversify as a business,” she said. “We were looking at buying other businesses; we were looking at how we could expand into other markets … so we sort of cast a net at some things we were looking at doing and ended up catching a fish in the UAE.”

The company is now looking at moving into Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but no decisions have been finalized, she said.

Huckstep has accrued numerous honors, including being named Colorado Small Business Administration’s 2007 Business Person of the Year and one of the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s 2012 Women of Influence. Her company ranked 18th in ColoradoBiz magazine’s top women-owned companies in 2011.

“Colorado Springs is losing an asset from the perspective of I’m going to be there 75 percent of my time, but my intention is to come back,” Huckstep said. “We’ll just have to see how things go.”