Fellow former global telecommunication executives Tony Pompliano and Harry Hobbs recently discovered a quirk in the national IT services marketplace: The industry, for the most part, lacks a mid-market.
There are a few behemoths, such as IBM and Accenture. On the flip side, there are many more small players, from five to 20 employees, that dominate the industry. The latter is especially true on the Gulf Coast.
Pompliano and Hobbs seek to fill that void — with a launch in Sarasota backed by $40 million in venture capital. They started with Sarasota-based Anexio, an IT services firm the duo acquired early last year. That entity is now the firm's network operations center, or NOC, in IT industry lingo. The executives expect to at least double the workforce in Sarasota in 2014, from 15 employees to more than 30.
The money to support the growth strategy comes from Raleigh, N.C.-based AJP Group, a venture capital and private equity firm where Pompliano is a managing partner. Pompliano's objective with Anexio is to build a do-everything business-to-business IT services firm that offers everything from data center management to desktop computer and mobile device support to cloud services. Targeted clients include financial services, professional services and health care companies.
The Anexio 2.0 blueprint, moreover, eventually includes offices up and down the East Coast. Pompliano projects the new Anexio, after the $40 million is spent in 2014 on acquisitions and build out, will be poised to hit $100 million in annual revenues within 30 months.
“The real opportunity is to be able to manage a client's entire IT infrastructure,” says Pompliano, who held senior leadership posts at MCI and AT&T. “And a regionally focused IT services firm can be more powerful.”
Adds Hobbs, head of the global customer unit for MCI in the 1990s: “We are going to put a model out there you just don't see very much.”
Pompliano and Hobbs are doing something else not often seen: They will lean on Sarasota, not exactly an IT services mecca, to grow a technology business. Entrepreneur Michelle Moulin, formerly Michelle Nelson, founded Anexio in 1996 and by the late 2000s it had surpassed $2 million in annual revenues. Both Moulin and Pompliano decline to release the firm's current annual sales figures, or for how much it sold.
“Anexio has a well thought out and repeatable business model and a robust base of clients,” says Pompliano. “And we consider Sarasota to be a good labor market.”
Anexio, says top Sarasota sales executive Jim Ellington, will use that labor market for its network operations center, a 6,000-square-foot building in the Rosemary District, just north of downtown. Anexio, however, is formally based in Raleigh, where Pompliano lives. That's where the company will execute what Pompliano calls an “aggressive and progressive expansion strategy.”
Recent acquisitions include Fort Lauderdale-based BluWater, which specializes in cloud and managed IT services, and DocuTech, with clients in Baltimore and Philadelphia. Pompliano says four other pending acquisitions, already under letters of intent, could close by the second quarter. Anexio's acquisitions are based on a formula of geography, management and capabilities.
Finally, like most everything else in IT, Anexio executives work under a heightened sense of urgency given the demand for cloud and mobile IT services. “Small and medium-sized business have a need for these services,” says Ellington. “They can't do it all on their own.”
Michelle Moulin grew Anexio, an IT firm she founded in her spare bedroom in 1996 when she was in her mid-20s, into a 15-employee business with more than $2 million in sales.
First called Net Strategies, later renamed Anexio to symbolize the next generation of technology, the firm became one of the largest independently run IT services firms in the Sarasota-Bradenton region. But the passion Moulin, formerly Michelle Nelson, had behind Anexio made selling difficult — a dilemma many founder-entrepreneurs face. She ultimately sold Anexio in March to technology investor and entrepreneur Tony Pompliano.
“This was our child,” says Moulin, who has testified on small business issues before Congress. “We wanted to sell it to someone who could do more with it than we could.”
Moulin has several other entrepreneurial ventures going. In 2012 she founded Sarasota-based iZipline, a business in the emerging Near Field Communication sector. An advanced version of QR codes, NFC technology sets protocols for smartphones and technology devices to communicate through radio frequencies. Moulin hopes iZipline, through patent-pending technology and early timing, will find a solid niche in the global packaging industry.
There's also Sarasota-based Blue Strategy + Creative Intl, a marketing technology firm Moulin founded in 2009. And finally, Moulin, a descendant of the family that helped build the Moulin Rouge in Paris, will spend time on her French connection: The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs named her a regional winner last year in the country's Young Entrepreneurs Initiative for her work in Near Field Communication.