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A trip Walt Augustinowicz took to Washington, D.C., last year to meet with patent officers was a dream-come-true entrepreneur moment.

There he was in a waiting room at 9 a.m., watching U.S. Patent and Trademark Office employees shuffle into work. Many of those employees, it turns out, use ID badge holders made and sold by Augustinowicz's company, Englewood-based Identity Stronghold, to access the building. “That,” says Augustinowicz, “was so cool.”

Augustinowicz has had many other pinch-me-like moments in the nine years he's spent turning Identity Stronghold from a home-based startup to a thriving, filled-to-the-brim firm. Sales are up 142% since 2011, from $3.3 million to $8 million last year, and Augustinowicz projects the firm will surpass $10 million in 2014 sales. The firm has 16 employees, plus another 30 who work on order fulfillment on a part-time basis.

“When I was running this thing out of my bedroom,” says Augustinowicz, “I never thought I would be so big one day that there would be no space big enough in all of Englewood.”

That's no joke: Commercial real estate agents told Augustinowicz the space he seeks, 15,000 square feet in a standalone office/light industrial building, doesn't exist in Englewood, a small south Sarasota County town that borders Charlotte County. The firm is currently run out of the Paul Morris Industrial Park in Englewood, where it occupies two buildings with a total of 8,000 square feet.

The space challenge stems from Identity Stronghold's core products: ID badge holders, wallets, purses and credit card sleeves that create a secure buffer on anything from driver's licenses and passports to credit cards and employee office entrance cards.

Identity Stronghold's concept is based on federal laws and security guidelines that require many forms of ID and plastic payment to have Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology codes. But the data inside those codes and related tiny chips are vulnerable to identity theft, which is where the firm's products come into play. Identity Stronghold has four patents on its products and a fifth is pending.
The Identity Stronghold line of products, which range in price from $5 to $40, are sold online through its own website. Amazon also sells the line, and the firm has a large presence on QVC, where Augustinowicz goes on live TV once a month to co-host a product display show.

Augustinowicz launched the business in 2005 from a combination of savings, maxed out credit cards and a second mortgage. Before that he had worked in IT for a trucking insurance firm, and while he was a novice business owner, he had a lot of experience in technology.

That dates back to when he developed his own software for a TRS-80 computer in the seventh grade. He later worked at Radio Shack — his favorite teenage job. He was awarded his first patent in 1995, for a moisture-activated automatic window closure device for cars. The product never got going due to regulatory hurdles.

A New Hampshire native who moved to the Venice area with his family when he was young boy, Augustinowicz says he's learned a lot about being an entrepreneur over the last decade. One standout lesson is to make quicker decisions. Says Augustinowicz: “I've learned to cut down on the amount of input you need to make a decision.”

Another key lesson, one that took years to grasp, he says, is being careful about taking on partners because the funds could come with a lot of headaches and distractions. Augustinowicz has bought out at least five minority partners in recent years. Now he runs the business with his wife, Sue, and is the majority owner and CEO.

Yet Augustinowicz says he will take lessons learned, even painful ones, any day over working for someone else. “I would encourage anyone to start your own business,” he says. “You don't have to wait for perfect idea or invention. You can control your own destiny.”

Year Revenue Growth

2011 $3.3 million
2012 $4.1 million 24.2%
2013 $8 million 95.1%

2011 10/1 full-time/part-time
2012 14/24 full-time/part-time
2013 16/30 full-time/part-time

Source: Identity Stronghold


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