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Business Rx: Can special forces skills translate into security firm?

By Special to Capital Business
Monday, August 9, 2010; 23

Business Rx

THE ENTREPRENEUR

Eli Werdesheim grew up in the United States, but always had a strong connection to Israel. At age 15, he left his family to finish high school in Israel and then enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Werdesheim excelled and was recruited to an elite unit of the IDF's special forces, Duvdevan, for which he specialized in urban counterterrorism, hostage rescue, high-profile apprehensions and security.

Werdesheim

"The military taught me to be goal-oriented, to take command when necessary, and to never give up. These are all attributes that I use today as a young entrepreneur."

With his military service complete, Werdesheim is living in Baltimore and enrolled in college. He's also starting up his own company -- Sayeret Operational Solutions -- using the knowledge and skills he gained while in the Israeli military.

THE PITCH

Werdesheim

"Sayeret Operational Solutions (SOS) works to provide diplomats, executives and high-profile individuals security when they travel overseas to dangerous areas. We serve as bodyguards and protect facilities and Jewish assets in different areas around the world. Our 22 Israeli military veterans will work in any high-risk area.

"Right now, we charge clients per job and are focusing on the private sector. I would like to get involved in government contracts, but a lot of our men are Israelis, so it will be challenging to get them security clearances.

"My main concern is how do I start up my business in this unique area? We have some previous freelance contracts, but now we are focused on finding new SOS clients. I am working full time on getting our sales pitch and marketing materials together to secure contracts."

THE ADVICE

Asher Epstein, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

"Become an expert and market yourself as such. For example, it is much stronger to sell yourself as 'Nigerian security experts' rather than just as 'security experts.' That becomes the competitive advantage -- situational awareness is irreplaceable.

"Focus on specific markets. Pick 10 cities, countries or areas that are high risk where you think you can easily access weapons, where your guys have some familiarity with the area and where you think there is potential for existing and future business. Start with the destination and work your way backward to find your clients. Go to these locations, camp out at hotels where businessmen, diplomats or other high-profile people will be staying and determine your potential market. The challenge is finding the right zones and the right people. The guy staying at the Marriott might not think he needs security, so you will have to figure out the nuances.

"Figure out your potential clients. Pinpoint the industries and businesses operating in the countries you focus on, whether it is oil, gas, mining, agriculture, banking, etc. Figure out additional players that might want to enter the market to target as clients. As a longer-term strategy, make sure you know businesses that currently operate in dangerous areas using security providers because they could potentially become your customers.

"You have a service-based model, so it isn't really an investor opportunity. If you do have guys all around the world, have them network where they are. Make sure your guys are trained in service, which includes customer service. Create a list of do's and don'ts to help put some polish on your organization."

REACTION/NEXT STEPS

Werdesheim

"These are all things that I have thought about a little bit but not necessarily in that much detail. We'll definitely pinpoint regions on which to focus -- that is good advice. Our team is spread across the world now, so they can start networking. We're also in the process of building a new Web site and enhancing our marketing materials, so that will help add to the polish of our pitch.

Epstein

"I think the next step is to find a potential client base that you can start talking to. Start with the high-risk places because those are easy to find. Once you find them, then you find the clients. Let them tell you what they need based on their expectations for that market. Make sure you present your company as a professional service provider, rather than just guys that know how to shoot guns. It's everything. It's being able to talk about processes and techniques. Give people the sense that you've thought three steps further than they've even thought."

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