Being Small, Thinking Big

Market View

John D. Sanders, Ph.D.,

Publisher, Technology Transfer Business

"Being Small, Thinking Big"

Is it true that the real innovation and job creation in this nation is in the hands of the small companies? Does "small" mean "less than 500 employees" or "under $5 million in revenues"? Does a company graduate from "small" to "large", or is there a vast expanse of "adolescence"? Can a large company be "entrepreneurial"?

A general distinguishing trait of technology driven companies is their belief that there is no limit to their growth. They are not dominated by walls and land, traffic patterns and real estate taxes. Knowledge-based personnel, products and services don't have ceilings on the thinkable. It's also why such a new "invention" as the Internet not only doesn't threaten these companies, but instead is generating a whole new era of business opportunities.

Our companion publication, Washington Technology, has just published its 1995 Technology Fast 50 List, the regionally-based technology companies with the greatest percentage revenue growth over the 1990-94 period. What an exciting group of companies, averaging 891% growth and 1994 revenues of $20.2 million. (The #1 company had 17,312% growthÑ from $138,216 in 1990 to $24,066,867 in 1994.) Systems integration and professional/technical services dominated the list of business areas. Also included are such fields as telecommunications, software, network equipment, computers, and systems engineering.

One company on the Washington Technology Fast 50 several years ago and joining it again in 1995 is America OnLine. They have been able to retain the entrepreneurial spirit of the small company while adapting to fast changing market conditions, rapid growth of operating personnel, new technologiesÑ and the need for capitalÑ to move from $17 million in 1990 to 1994 revenues of $104 million.

Sure. These companies go through an adolescence, where the founding entrepreneurs must develop secondary layers of management that can put in place the operating principles to take advantage of the momentum in a big company. If innovative enthusiasm can be maintained, then the result will be an entrepreneurial big company that embraces new technologies and combines them with marketing power to drive continued growth.

Thinking entrepreneurially is the answer. Taking innovation as a challenge and new market opportunity, not as a threat, is the spirit that drives the most successful companies.

A company, however, can also "Be Big and Think Big." When they do that, either get out of the way or get on the bandwagon. I always hope that when the big guys think and act big, they also do it innovatively and entrepreneurially.

Look for other Regional Technology Fast 50's (new for 1995), and for the National Technology Fast 500 in the fall when these Fast 50's are combined. They illustrate what happens when technological innovation is combined with good marketing and business judgment.

Let me also suggest that you participate with regional councils of the Association of Technology Business Councils. They are ideal resources for involvement with 6,000 results-oriented entrepreneurial technology companies, and are generally the regional sponsors of the Technology Fast 50's. The list of Councils is in the regular ATBC Update to Industry featured quarterly in Technology Transfer Business magazine. That magazine also is following the evolving issues of economic development catalyzed through technology transfer.

For additional information on the ATBC and its regional business councils, or Technology Transfer Business magazine, call John Sanders at 703-848-2800, ext. 151.

prepared for the February, 1995 Issue of the Federal Laboratory Consortium NewsLink