For Harry Niedzwiadek, it was something like winning an Academy Award.

That's how the chief executive of Image Matters LLC in Leesburg described the citation he accepted earlier this month at an intelligence conference in San Antonio. His privately held software company won an "innovation" award from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency for its proposal on "Automated Information Triage for Deep Geospatial Analysis." The $1 million contract that went with it was nice too, Niedzwiadek said in an interview.

NGA spokeswoman Susan Meisner said this is the third year the mapping agency has given out the innovation award and the first time it has gone to a single company. The announcement noted that NGA considered 50 proposals on improving the filtering of data to help analysts cope with vast volumes and varieties of information. Image Matters will have a year to show what its software can do.

Niedzwiadek said his company has about $2.5 million a year in revenue, nearly all of it from the federal intelligence and homeland security agencies. Since the award announcement, he said he has been "bombarded with calls of congratulations" -- and more than a few asking if the firm was for sale.

He and his partners are in no rush to cash in, Niedzwiadek added, but know they will need an infusion of cash in the next two years to make their software widely applicable. "We see this as something Google and Microsoft should be taking an interest in," he said.

-- Charles R. Babcock