Ignite President and CEO Jason Shelton (Contributed)
Huntsville is one of those places with businesses that attract brainpower, expertise, and competency. Either that or it’s one of those cities with brainpower, expertise, and competency that attract and create business opportunities.
That’s the case with Ignite Fueling Innovation, or Ignite, a Business Council of Alabama member in its second generation of leadership that is planning for the future.
Known as ALATEC until last year’s purchase of and merger with USi, the company was rebranded as Ignite. It and its approximately 250 employees provide technical and professional services to federal and commercial customers in 17 states.
Ignite is led by President and CEO Jason Shelton, Chief Operating Officer Brandon Umphrey, Chief Marketing Officer Clayton Hinchman, and Chief Financial Officer Trent Poff.
“Our team of uniquely qualified experts enable the Army to test and validate future concepts in a cost effective manner via simulation systems,” said Shelton, who joined ALATEC in 2009 with initial responsibility for business development and growth.Ignite is a common Huntsville story: A group of retired military officers networked and envisioned a consulting firm. In 2006, they were awarded the company’s two first-prime contracts providing modeling and simulation-based analytics to the U.S. Army at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Since then, Ignite has doubled in both revenue and personnel.
It’s also done something else that is becoming more and more common. In 2012, Ignite established an Employee Stock Ownership Plan with an eye to the future as a self-sustaining, employee-owned company.
Ignite is the third profiled BCA member with an ESOP plan. Avon Solutions was profiled in June and Vulcan Inc., whose president and CEO is 2016 BCA Chairman Tommy Lee, was profiled in the Business Advocate.
“The ESOP model has provided individual owners a mechanism for recognizing financial benefit from their risk and hard work while ensuring the organization endures and a broader audience of employee owners have the potential for financial return as well,” Shelton said.
Shelton was first exposed to the ESOP model when working for BCA-member Camber Corp. and saw how it can be a major catalyst for business growth. “It builds financial security for families and fuels innovation on the part of employee-owners,” Shelton said.
Shelton, along with then-USi owner Hinchman, orchestrated a buyout that broadened Ignite’s offerings beyond the federal space to include Educational IT services such as digital 1:1 conversion and sustainment.
Acquisition and rebranding complete, Ignite certified as a VA Center for Veteran’s Enterprise Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB).
As part of a deliberate diversification plan, Ignite recently entered the NASA business space. Ignite employee-owners are developing web-based applications for the Marshall Space Flight Center and providing a full array of logistical support to the International Space Station and the Commercial Crew Program.
“We are excited to begin our partnership with NASA at a time when the nation has made a commitment to explore Mars and deep space,” Shelton said.
Ignite recently entered into a formal NASA Shared Services Center sponsored Mentor-Protégé agreement with SAIC. The program is designed to ensure NASA has continued access to innovative small businesses that are being actively mentored by veteran large-business service providers.
Shelton was well prepared to work in the Rocket City supporting organizations such as the Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. He served 12 years in the Army and Army National Guard as an Air Defense Artillery officer working principally in Joint and Coalition integration of missiles and radar systems around the globe.
“I know I’m incredibly fortunate to lead an organization like Ignite and at the time I entered military service never could have foreseen the unique turn of events that would take place to bring me to this point today,” he said in a recent interview.
Shelton said his biggest business challenge in leading a growing organization is common to all small businesses in the federal space.
“You work a deliberate plan to grow and expand into broader markets but each incremental step in growth means you lose some of the competitive advantage afforded to small businesses,” he said. “It’s a welcome challenge that comes with success and growth.”
Shelton said the Ignite executive team has an ongoing dialogue about how to further differentiate the company “in a very congested and competitive market.”
“We believe we have a number of things that make us stand apart,” he said. “In the recent past, we have invested significant time and resources into state-of-the-industry business systems such as accounting and human capital management,” Shelton said. “We also strive through education and incentive programs to foster a climate of innovation that rewards our talented employee-owners who bring creative and effective solutions to the clients we serve.
“We are optimistic that the years ahead will result in a continued pattern of success and growth,” Shelton said.