Business Rx: A company that helps you find your way indoors looks for a roadmap to future growth

October 9, 2011
The Entrepreneur

How many Washington area drivers would be lost without their GPS system? The handy technology has become so ubiquitous for helping people navigate the streets that any smartphone user can tote the application around in a pocket. Carol Politi is hoping Greenbelt-based TRX Systems will provide the equivalent mainstay for those needing to navigate hallways and corridors — any indoor space beyond the reach of traditional GPS technology. The need is especially critical for first-responders and military, but could ultimately be used by everyone with a smartphone.

The Pitch

Carol Politi

“TRX Systems was started to address a really a challenging problem — determining the accurate location of people when they are indoors. The founders of the company saw this need with clarity during the September 11 tragedy. It was impossible to tell where inside the building firefighters were working. Existing location systems often stop functioning when users move inside because GPS does not work without clear views of the sky.

“TRX has since developed and patented an indoor location technology to support security, law enforcement, firefighter, and military applications, and recently released its indoor location system commercially for VIP and event security applications. The company has worked with the U.S. Army, Department of Homeland Security, the National Science Foundation, the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the federal antiterrorism Technical Support Working Group. Most recently, TRX delivered its location system to the Singapore Civil Defense Force, was selected to be one of the team members (partnering with Honeywell and Boeing/Argon ST) supporting the DHS GLANSER program that aims to deliver a highly accurate location system for first responders. The company also has been selected by DARPA to extend our system to support underground applications for tracking in caves and mines.

“TRX’s technology is software that uses sensors within the tracking unit to deliver a user’s location information—right down to what floor they are on, and where on that floor they might be—without pre-installed infrastructure that technologies such as Wi-Fi and Ultra Wide Band rely upon. The technology can run on a TRX-developed positioning unit or embedded in other third-party commercial systems. Advances in mobile platforms will soon allow TRX to deliver its unique navigation solution on handheld devices. This opens up a large market for TRX in delivering handheld applications and location services for enterprise and consumer applications that provide location driven information.


TRX’s Sentrix Command Station shows the real-time location of people in two- and three-dimensional displays. (Courtesy of TRX Systems)

“Our challenges are similar to those experienced by many young companies. We need to be sure we concentrate only on the developments that are essential to drive revenue, deliver on our customer commitments and get follow-on orders, and make the investments we need to grow sales. We also need to selectively invest in international markets that have high demands for this technology, but that can be a resource drain for a young company.

“Ultimately the problem of indoor location tracking is a big one. People spend 90 percent of their time indoors. We expect this technology to take a path similar to GPS for the enterprise and consumer markets and to be a great compliment to applications currently driven by GPS technologies.”

The feedback

Elana Fine, director of venture investments, Dingman Center for
Entrepreneurs
hip

“Congrats on your success in developing early customer and partner relationships. You have checked a lot of boxes for an early-stage company and now need to show revenue growth and prove customers will pay or can get funding for this technology. If you have the resources, look at niche markets like private security, where you can get some quick traction in comparison to some of the longer sales cycle of the partnerships and federal contracts that you’ve been successfully nurturing.

“Even if private industry isn’t your main target, it can make you more attractive to investors. As you go to raise venture money, private sector wins can reduce some inherent risk that some investors associate with partnerships and sales exclusively to federal clients.

“Continue what you’re doing in your current market successes, but also identify the relationships that you’ll need to start to nurture now to get to the consumer/personal navigation market. I know that is still down the road as the next phase of your business life cycle, but look for a bridge that can get you in front of enterprises that will ultimately expose your technology to consumers. That way, when the right mobile technology is more readily available and you are ready to tackle the consumer market head-on, TRX is already top of mind. And even though the end user is the consumer, you won’t necessarily be selling direct to the consumer. Focus on laying the groundwork now for partnerships and relationships with the right technology companies and providers, and determine roadmap for the next few years.”

The reaction

Politi

“We are already seeing demand from enterprise markets, and this market and the international public sector market are demonstrating that they can move quickly. We are focused now on successful deliveries for our early adopter customers and key government and industry sector partners. These early deployments and development programs are laying the groundwork for our future growth and will fund expanded business development within enterprise and consumer markets. Even though we see strong demand from Europe, we have elected to restrict our near-term sales activity to the United States and Asia so that we can efficiently focus our sales and business development efforts.”

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