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One of the best kept secrets in Michigan IT is trying to fix that little problem of visibility. Mostly because, the phrase of one of its founders, it can't hire people fast enough.
Security and connectivity provider Nuspire Networks Inc. was founded in 1999 by Saylor Frase and Steve Whitener as a spinout of Frase's Web development company, which he started as a Central Michigan University student in 1996.
Nuspire's first work was connecting hospitals to small clinics securely using Virtual Private Network technology, which some then doubted could be trusted to do the job. Relationships to handle connectivity for bigger tech companies like Unisys and IBM brought them to the attention of General Motors Corp., which in 2000 began using Nuspire to provide connectivity with dealers.
"To this day we still run that portion of connecting GM with dealers," Frase said.
More recently, the company has taken on work for Subaru, SPX Corp., InkStop stores and Fox TV. Those customers keep Nuspire scrambling -- they've kept up with InkStop's 300 percent annualized growth, for instance, by figuring out a way to complete a data phone infrastructure for a new store location in two weeks.
And three months ago, the company hired its first marketing and sales department.
"We never had a sales force up 'til then, but our products and services have now matured enough, and we see deals in the media now where we say, 'Wow, we should have competed for that,'" Frase said. "We're trying to raise our profile."
Nuspire has 60 employees now and openings in network engineering, corporate IT sales, sales engineering, call center support, administrative assitants, and very specific programming roles.
"We can't hire people fast enough, and it's neat to be with a Michigan company that has that problem," company marketing director Jim Hebler said.
Other managers today include Brian Klumpp as head of the information security practice and compliance team, and Dan Hoban as product marketing and sales manager.
Nuspire is also looking at geographic expansion. It has a marketing operation in Tampa, Fla. that will be the springboard for a southern expansion. It's looking to grow in Los Angeles, where it also has employees, as well as in Spain.
Nuspire is also considering an addition or a second location. Its current pleasantly out-of-the-way location in Commerce Township was originally built as a laboratory that developed and tested chemicals for foams for the auto industry. Thus, it offers backup heating and cooling, a large natural gas generator and sturdy, well-insulated walls -- just the thing for a network operations center. There, Nuspire monitors its customers' hardware and data streams, ticketing and maintaining devices.
Nuspire said it works best with a company with a lot of locations using different hardware and software -- it can centralize monitoring and management of that disparate network. It monitors the machines with a combination of off-the-shelf and proprietary risk scoring technology called Nuspire Trax, that literally tracks each node for evidence someone's trying to break into it. On a recent Friday morning, seven nodes were at a medium risk level.
Nuspire also offers its customers NuVu, a monitoring device that looks like a clock radio that scrolls through a series of easy-to-digest network dashboards -- and which played a big part in keeping Nuspire ahead of the Conficker virus outbreak.
But behind the walls of technology, Frase said the company has never lost sight that "people are the biggest part of this. We keep people engaged and inspired with a lot of events." Included are things like all-hands company trips to Mackinac Island, paintball and Xbox tournaments, "pi day," in which there are pie-eating and pi-the-number-reciting contests, and a crazy basketball tournament where non-athletes can also score points with answers to trivia questions. Not surprisingly, as a result, it's won a pile of "cool workplace" awards.
The company has also emphasized charitable activities like adopting families for Christmas, putting together a cancer research drive after an employee's 3-year-old nephew died of leukemia, and starting a charity called the Twilight Benefit Foundation, which conducts a major golf outing at Indianwood, wine tastings and a black tie gala ball fundraiser in the fall. The company even has a semi-house band -- its employees play for Huckleberry Groove, a funk'n'ska outfit.
For more information on the golf outing -- and preregistration is recommended -- visit www.twilightbenefit.com.
Frase said the company is on track to top $10 million in revenue this year.