The winner of the 2003 Alexandria Technology Achievement Award fits right in with this city's seaport heritage.
As the developer of a maritime survivor locating device used as a man-overboard alarm, receiver, and direction finder, Briar Tek, Inc., headquartered at 112 E. Del Ray Avenue, walked off with the honors last Friday at the seventh annual awards luncheon and ceremony.
Known as the Overboard Recovery Communications Apparatus (ORCA), the system consists of a beacon worn by sailors while at sea. When activated it alerts crew members and rescue authorities with a directional signal that helps locate the individual in need of assistance.
It is currently being used by the U.S. Navy throughout the world and Sandy Hook Harbor Pilots. On land the technology is being applied to industrial safety alarms, by firefighters as locator beacons, and as wildlife tracking tags.
In accepting the award, founders and corporate officers Joseph Landa, Chuck Collins, and Bill Dull, thanked the judges for honoring them and acknowledged that, "Getting to know the people at T.C. Williams High School who produced the video was a great benefit."
EACH OF THE THREE finalists was highlighted in that video presentation produced, directed, and edited by students from the high school under the guidance of T.C.Williams teacher Vilma Zefran. It told the story of each organization and their product.
Charles Collum, chairman, Burke & Herbert Bank & Trust Company, Grant Geyer, representing Riptech, Inc., winner of the 2002 award, which was recently acquired by Symantec Corporation, and David Lantzy, Federal Aviation Administration and a member of the City's Commission on Information Technology, served as judges for the competition.
The two other finalists showcasing advancements in the development and application of technology by Alexandria-based businesses were Relatable, LLC, and The Templar Corporation. Relatable is based at 30 S.Quaker Lane while Templar has its offices at 727 North Washington Street.
Relatable was founded by Patrick Breslin and Sean Ward. It is "the leading provider of acoustic fingerprinting technology for tracking the delivery of music and media through new digital and traditional channels of distribution."
Templar "offers advanced and secure information management solutions that allow law enforcement, criminal justice, and emergency management organizations to easily and rapidly share critical information" thereby improving government's ability to deter and respond to threats against public safety and security.
AS ONE OF THE original chairs of the city's Ad Hoc Task Force on Information and Communication Technologies which initiated the award in 1997, Councilwoman Redella S. Pepper said, in naming the winner, "This is our chance to showcase Alexandria technology. What these companies bring to us is investment and economic growth."
She noted that since its inception the award has drawn 150 nominations with 34 companies being recognized as potential recipients. Alexandria is the center of Northern Virginia's technology industry. More than 400 firms employ nearly 12,000 people here.
Guest speaker for the event was Thomas Gardner, co-founder, The Motley Fool, an Alexandria based multimedia business that educates, amuses, and enriches more than 30 million people each month across a wide variety of online and offline media channels.
Addressing the diverse audience that filled the ballroom of the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center, Gardner said, "We have succeeded the most when we have looked at our mistakes. The primary mistake of most new businesses is not realizing currency is a limited resource."
He reflected that during the dotcom boom, "There was a lot of idealism and not nearly as much cynicism as has been portrayed." Rhetorically he asked, "How do multi-million dollar businesses grow? Through a balanced pursuit of profit and idealism."
ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE of the spectrum, Gardner cited Merrill Lynch. "They represent cynicism in pursuit of profit," he declared. In describing their attitude he cited an episode of The Twilight Zone entitled "To Serve Man." It dealt with aliens coming to this planet with a book by that title. Earthlings took this to be a good omen when it was actually a cook book, according to Gardner.
In juxtaposition to Merrill Lynch, Gardner referred the audience to Southwest Airlines. "This is a great example of a great company in a terrible industry," he proclaimed.
"The Motley Fool and others ran into trouble because cash flowed too freely at first. Venture capitalists took our eyes off the ball of service to our customers," Gardner emphasized.
"When we had to make our first layoffs at Motley Fool it was very agonizing. But, the core value of the company has always been uncompromising honesty. If any company is going to succeed it has to be extremely self critical and be able to analyze its mistakes," he insisted.
Referencing the current economic climate, Gardner said, "The greatest American businesses have all been started in times of economic stress because the founders are acutely aware of every cent of expenditure. They also grow organically, not like rockets."