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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 5, 2019 3 months ago

Firm aims to grab market share behind new software patents

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Visual Awareness Technologies & Consulting could be on the verge of a major breakthrough.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Although she was born at Fort Bragg, Sara Moola never served in the military. But a new software product made by her company, Tampa-based Visual Awareness Technologies & Consulting, could improve the effectiveness of U.S. armed forces worldwide.

VATC, which also has offices in St. Petersburg, recently received two patents for the software. It's called EPIC Ready, a cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service platform that allows users to collaboratively assess mission readiness.

“It’s more of a gestalt approach. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Sara Moola, co-founder of Visual Awareness Technologies & Consulting

Moola, 50, says EPIC could also be a useful tool for private-sector clients like mining and telecom companies that need to develop and test plans to protect strategic, high-value assets. But in an industry dominated by giant defense contractors like Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, how will VATC, with just 200 employees, break through?

“It’s hard to compete with the traditional system integrators,” Moola says, using an industry term for firms that do big business with the U.S. Department of Defense. “They usually corner the market because they have the right contacts, the right connections and the money to get in front of the customer.”

Moola has fought back with her hiring strategy. She and her co-founder and husband, Mike Vaughn, go out of their way to hire veterans — particularly men and women who’ve been members of U.S. special operations forces, such as the Green Berets and Navy SEALs, as well as former employees of intelligence agencies like the CIA.

Some 80% of VATC’s workforce is veterans, Moola says. “They have the knowledge of lessons learned in the field to apply to our training scenarios.”

Although ex-warriors program and deploy EPIC, and current warriors are intended customers, Moola says the ultimate objective of EPIC Ready is peace. EPIC Ready improves mission effectiveness because of the three-tiered approach that sets it apart from competing products in the marketplace.

First is EPIC Builder, a program that allows users to create ultra-realistic geospatial environments. That’s Moola’s specialty, having trained in geographic information systems mapping — a high-tech, data-centric approach to organizing, visualizing and assessing an environment.

The second part is EPIC Media, a threat-assessment tool that lets users monitor social media and internet chatter that could point to a possible attack.

“The media piece is critical because nothing just happens on the ground anymore,” Moola says. “You can determine a threat well beforehand, via the internet, and you can determine what the response is to your action in the field — was it negatively or positively received?”

That’s an area where Moola sees private-sector marketing potential. EPIC Media can collect what’s known as open-source intelligence, publicly available data that can be useful for security and cybersecurity purposes.

The third leg is EPIC Plan, the program that brings all the inputs together and allows leaders to plan, execute and assess a scenario.

“By integrating all three, it’s more of a gestalt approach,” Moola says. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

VATC has been first to market with this kind of holistic approach to cloud-based, collaborative mission and exercise training — hence, the patents, Moola says. And because it’s a subscription-based SaaS platform, EPIC Ready generates a wide range of steady fees for VATC. Depending on the size and needs of the customer, Moola says EPIC can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a quarter of a million dollars. (She declines to disclose specific firm revenue figures, citing privately held VATC’s recent introduction of EPIC Ready.)

VATC, founded in 2003, also handles more conventional services for the DoD. A prime example is Emerald Warrior, an annual U.S. Special Operations Command exercise focused on irregular warfare tactics. Emerald Warrior training scenarios, which take 12 months to plan, can involve coordination of up to 2,500 military units.

Emerald Warrior represents one of VATC’s two major contracts with the U.S. Special Operations Command. It also makes money from a handful of other deals, such as a $99.7 million Air Force contract, awarded in 2015, that VATC shared with six other companies.

Although it might not be the primary revenue driver, Moola expects EPIC Ready, with its appeal to the private sector, to be a big part of the company’s future, particularly if she can find investors to come onboard.

“Not just from a monetary perspective, but investors who can open doors,” she says. “Vertical-specific investors who can really leverage this technology.”

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