Category: ICAP

Ipsun Solar

Lights on: The Mason SBDC powers up solar installer

Grew from two employees to over 50; over 300 customers served; became one of the largest solar installers in the Northern VA area.

www.ipsunsolar.com

When Herve Billiet and Joe Marhamati founded Ipsun Solar, they had a singular vision: encourage all Americans to produce their own power using the clean, renewable energy of the sun. Today, that vision remains unchanged, and thanks to help from the Mason SBDC Ipsun Solar has grown to become one of the largest solar developers in Northern Virginia.

Unlike many industries, solar was unscathed by the recent pandemic. In fact, according to Herve, their business flourished as many customers looked to make the switch from gas, oil, and other types of fuel to solar power during the uncertain times of COVID-19. “We are definitely riding a wave,” Herve explains. “There is a huge increase in demand for what we have to offer.”

Herve is an electro-mechanical engineer who began developing solar projects in Alabama in the 2000s, while Joe is an environmental scientist who served as Energy Advisor to President Obama. Despite their extensive in-field knowledge, including Herve’s previous business experience, when it came to taking their two-man start-up from zero watts to megawatts, there was only one place to go.

“When I got started with Ipsun, I immediately went to the team at the Mason SBDC,” Herve explains, “because I knew they would provide the best advice on how to get us most quickly from a start-up to a real business.”

Herve connected with advisor and mentor, Timm Johnson. From the start of the relationship, Herve says Timm’s real-world experience and matter-of-fact advice have been crucial guide points for the solar company. Herve explains, “The continuity I experienced working with Timm the entire time has been so valuable to me — working with a person that has actually done mergers and acquisitions, has actually had experience running a business, and not just from a book, but someone who actually has the hands-on knowledge.”

As Ipsun Solar rapidly expanded, the business-related issues evolved from bottom line to people oriented. Again, Herve found that Timm had the experience and resources to provide incisive assistance. “As a business owner, you have many data-driven things coming at you, and the best thing that you can do is always be very analytical,” Herve says. “If I have questions about sales and marketing, legal, product development, or even hiring and firing, Timm is all about answering those questions in a very down-to-earth way,” Herve adds. “Timm was — and is — helpful for drilling down to the core issues and providing insight.”

Herve continues to meet with Timm regularly, as Ipsun Solar has spiked from two employees to over 50, and has served over 300 customers in the Virginia, D.C., and Maryland areas.

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Wall-Lift Inc.

Innovation leads to international business for Wall-Lift

Achieved more than 100% growth in domestic and international sales

https://walllift.net/

When Mark Helmuth first invented the Wall-Lift in 2005, it was purely out of necessity. As a contractor, he needed a safer and more efficient way to raise walls, so he built a device to do the heavy lifting for him and his crew, literally.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions,” Mark says. “I had a need to set walls, and the methods that were out there didn’t quite meet my specs. I thought about it, went out and got the components, and within a week and a half I had it all together. On the first job, it worked great.”

That first use quickly turned into dozens. After his fellow contractors saw the machine in action, requests to build more began to filter in. At the urging of a friend in 2016, Mark filed for a patent and began exploring the process of setting up Wall-Lift as a business. His banker referred him to the SBDC center in the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham area where Allison Dugan’s team helped Mark establish Wall-Lift Inc.

“The SBDC walked me through a lot of things,” Mark says. “I took a lot of the courses they offered, they hooked me up with some shipping guys, and they helped me put together some brochures and marketing,” he adds. He also participated in the Virginia SBDC Network’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) to learn about customer discovery and how to match your product to your customers’ needs.

But Mark’s partnership with the SBDC didn’t end there. This past spring, Mark discovered a video of his Wall-Lift posted by what Mark wrote on Instagram, was “an icon of the framing world.” The SBDC was there to help Mark double down on the power of viral marketing in this unique situation.

That video, which has since generated nearly 400,000 views, led to an exponential increase in orders for Wall-Lift almost overnight. Mark has nearly doubled sales from last year already and, with help from the Virginia SBDC Network’s International Business Development Director Aaron Miller, he has shipped as far as Australia, England, Norway, and South Korea. The distribution channels the SBDC helped him establish have paid dividends during that growth — as have partnerships the SBDC helped him secure with two dealers who now sell Wall-Lift.

“I got a large United States map, and I put pins where every sale went so I can see what’s going on,” Mark recalls. “Early on, I saw that if I made one sale in one area, it’s not long before you have two or three more in that same area. That’s when I realized this wasn’t a bad product because it’s selling itself,” adds Mark.

As Wall-Lift continues to grow, Mark finds the SBDC to be a reliable ally in his corner. Sales for the product have doubled every year, ballooning from fewer than 10 in his first year to more than 200 units already sold in 2021. He sold eight in one day and 52 in a single month — records he says he wouldn’t be surprised to see broken.

“[The SBDC] asked me, how big do you want to go? I said that if we got to the point where we could sell two a week, that would be great,” Mark says. “Now we’re way past that.”

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ClaimEdge

Software company gets its start with ICAP

Received a $50,000 grant from the NSF

www.claimedge.co

As an insurance defense attorney for 35 years, James Chapman saw the need for a litigation management tool to enable faster and less expensive resolutions of lawsuits. In 2018, he launched a company to provide that tool. One of his first moves was to contact the Hampton Roads SBDC. Three years later, James is glad he did.

“In 2018, I was interested in what tools were out there to help us grow a business,” he explains. “Through the SBDC, we had an opportunity to get involved in a cohort through the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP).” Backed by the Virginia SBDC Network, ICAP helps Virginia’s entrepreneurs maximize the potential of their technology startups. “I applied for ICAP through the Hampton Roads SBDC,” James adds. “I worked with Bob Smith and, later, Josh Green.”

The ICAP cohort met weekly. “ICAP focused on the concept of customer discovery — figuring out who customers were and deciding what ideas would appeal to them,” James explains. “During each weekly class, we reported on our customer discovery and how we could use that information.” After the first month, ICAP classes moved online. “ICAP continued to provide support for each business following the cohort,” James adds.

When they received a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the company continued their customer discovery journey with I-Corps. Created in 2011 by NSF, I-Corps helps entrepreneurs with promising ideas and technologies move from the laboratory into the marketplace. “It was through ICAP that we learned about I-Corps,” James says.

In 2020, the company was one of five selected for an accelerator program. “During the accelerator program, and in spite of the COVID environment, we were able to build out our software,” James reports.

Now in 2021, three years after making a connection with the SBDC, their software product, ClaimEdge, is in pilot testing with a major insurance company. “The SBDC’s ICAP program was a great way to get our business started,” James says.

James continues to keep in touch with ICAP, sitting in on monthly meetings four or five times a year. “I absolutely recommend the SBDC,” James concludes. “With the SBDC, you have a whole team that’s ready to help you out.”

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Proctor360

Proctor360 makes virtual testing real

Proctor360 have experienced very significant growth.

https://proctor360.com/

Long before the COVID pandemic forced virtual learning to become a reality for students across the nation, Ganga Bathula and Kranthi Bathula were making plans to enter the online testing market, an estimated $1,34 billion industry by 2027. Both Founder/CEO Ganga Bathula and CTO Kranthi Bathula were industry veterans with successful backgrounds in live testing centers and wanted to bring that expertise to remote testing.

Their company, Proctor360, brings novel technology to the market, which includes headset that incorporates a 360-degree camera, speaker, and microphone. The result is a complete view of the testing environment for proctoring – a game changer. “We saw early on that a transition to remote testing was underway,” Kranthi says. “We developed what the market needed to further its growth.”

Going to the Mason SBDC, as Kranthi put it, was a no-brainer. “One of Proctor360’s offices is right next to the Mason SBDC,” he adds. Ganga and Kranthi met with Mason SBDC Senior Business Counselor George Siragusa.

“We spent most of 2018 planning,” Kranthi continues. “George advised us on the decisions we had to make. He also helped us explore different avenues of funding.” George connected the Proctor360 planners with the SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP). “ICAP helped us in performing a market study, talking directly to our customers,” Kranthi says. “That feedback was especially helpful.”

In February 2019, Proctor360 held a soft launch to demonstrate its patent-pending technology at the Mason Enterprise Center in Fairfax. “Our 360 total-view system is unique to us,” Kranthi says. “Students don’t have to leave their house — they can just log on to the computer and take their exams from anywhere.”

Proctor360 caters to colleges and universities, as well as training and certification companies.
The company currently has 10+ employees spread across the US. Kranthi credits the SBDC for aiding in Proctor360’s success. “Since we started working with the SBDC, our business growth has been over 600 percent,” Kranthi notes.

“The SBDC is well established,” Kranthi concludes. “They can bring in the right person to help with a specific business need. That gives company owners a great deal of confidence.”

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Binbox

The SBDC’s guidance puts a lock on success

Received investment funding from several Mid-Atlantic angel and venture networks

When COVID-19 shut down Binbox, a business Dan Flynn and Eric Herring launched last fall, Dan didn’t despair. Instead, he turned to the Mason SBDC for guidance through the pandemic. “When you’re thrown a lemon, make lemonade,” Dan says.

Dan and Eric started planning the business in Dan’s garage. “It took a while to get some traction,” Dan describes. When a friend suggested the George Mason Entrepreneurship program, Dan decided to check it out. “They linked me with the Mason SBDC, who linked me with ICAP,” Dan adds. The Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), a statewide technology-commercialization initiative, is a program offered by the Virginia SBDC Network. The ICAP program changed the course of the business by focusing on “customer discovery.” As a result, Binbox developed a solution for what people could do with their personal belongings while attending sporting events, concerts, or the like. “We monetized a smart lock and put it in a locker so people could use their phones to store belongings while attending large events,” Dan explains.

After completing ICAP’s Introductory Course, Dan continued to work with his ICAP mentor. “We looked at high volume venues, like arenas,” he says. “We’re currently pushing close to 30 venues, including the Washington Nationals, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Denver Broncos, and Atlanta Falcons — some major teams.”

Binbox was well on the way to success when the pandemic stopped them in their tracks. “We were completely impacted,” Dan says. “With everything closed down, we had to focus on conserving cash and finding a different way forward.”

That way became clear as sports venues cautiously began to reopen. “We became part of the opening plans for these venues,” Dan explains. “The venues needed to keep everything safe and sanitary, and we could provide that service.” Messaging on the Binbox webpage reflects the new focus, which reads, “Keep belongings safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 with secure, no-contact solutions from Binbox.” Dan adds, “Our sales tripled in the last couple of months.”

To ensure a continued future, Binbox received investment funding from several Mid-Atlantic angel and venture networks.When COVID-19 shut down Binbox, a business Dan Flynn and Eric Herring launched last fall, Dan didn’t despair. Instead, he turned to the Mason SBDC for guidance through the pandemic. “When you’re thrown a lemon, make lemonade,” Dan says. 

Dan and Eric started planning the business in Dan’s garage. “It took a while to get some traction,” Dan describes. When a friend suggested the George Mason Entrepreneurship program, Dan decided to check it out. “They linked me with the Mason SBDC, who linked me with ICAP,” Dan adds. The Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), a statewide technology-commercialization initiative, is a program offered by the Virginia SBDC Network. The ICAP program changed the course of the business by focusing on “customer discovery.” As a result, Binbox developed a solution for what people could do with their personal belongings while attending sporting events, concerts, or the like. “We monetized a smart lock and put it in a locker so people could use their phones to store belongings while attending large events,” Dan explains. 

After completing ICAP’s Introductory Course, Dan continued to work with his ICAP mentor. “We looked at high volume venues, like arenas,” he says. “We’re currently pushing close to 30 venues, including the Washington Nationals, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Denver Broncos, and Atlanta Falcons — some major teams.”

Binbox was well on the way to success when the pandemic stopped them in their tracks. “We were completely impacted,” Dan says. “With everything closed down, we had to focus on conserving cash and finding a different way forward.” 

That way became clear as sports venues cautiously began to reopen. “We became part of the opening plans for these venues,” Dan explains. “The venues needed to keep everything safe and sanitary, and we could provide that service.” Messaging on the Binbox webpage reflects the new focus, which reads, “Keep belongings safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 with secure, no-contact solutions from Binbox.” Dan adds, “Our sales tripled in the last couple of months.”

To ensure a continued future, Binbox received investment funding from several Mid-Atlantic angel and venture networks.

 

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Fend Inc.

Fending off cyberattacks

Received nearly $3 million from multiple SBIR and state grants, a contract with the Department of Defense, and investment from Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology

Cyberattacks: a scary and unexpected threat to everyone from thriving nations to next-door neighbors. The systems that make our modern lives possible are moving online. From electricity providers and water utilities to refrigerated trucks and beyond, the comforts we enjoy are made more efficient and reliable by bringing massive industrial equipment into the Internet of Things (IoT). The downside? These vital networks are increasingly susceptible to hackers. 

Aware of this growing area of vulnerability, Colin Dunn created Fend Inc., a cybersecurity company dedicated to preventing critical infrastructure from being attacked, data stolen, or equipment held for ransom. “We keep attackers out of the critical systems that make America run,” Colin explains. “We are putting data into the hands that need it, as well as ensuring that these systems are not left open to threats or vulnerable to attack.”

Since its founding in 2017, the Arlington-based company has been integral in providing superior security to critical domestic infrastructures. Colin, with a background in mechanical engineering and business administration, recognized the opportunity to expand to the international market, but needed help. While touring the Mason Enterprise Center (originally looking for office space) he also found the State Office of the Virginia SBDC Network. 

“I got to know the SBDC by just walking the halls,” Colin says. “Someone would say, ‘Hey, I know someone who can help you with exports’ and ‘I can help get you in touch with someone to put in contact with others in the industry.’”

First, the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) advisors at the Virginia SBDC State Office worked with Colin to first help him develop and validate his customers and product premise. “Customer interviews done through this program gave us insights that informed the design of our products and services,” Colin explains. 

Next, the State Office’s International Business Development (IBD) program helped Fend export their services, taking their operation global. The first step was researching the industrial cybersecurity market in Western European countries and member nations of the intelligence alliance known as The Five Eyes. The SBDC also connected Colin with other firms for potential partnerships, and compiled a list of certifications needed to compete internationally. 

“Without the SBDC’s ICAP and IBD programs, our view of opportunity would be a lot smaller,” Colin says. “They helped us realize that protecting critical infrastructure worldwide is something that is possible for Fend, and helped us develop a methodical way of serving this community beyond our borders.

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Enterprise e-Support, Inc.

Global connections add security

Enterprise e-Support added 3 jobs and obtained a loan of $60,000.

Chintan and Shikha Dixit have always had a sharp eye for innovation, and they brought it to the IT sector with their business by keeping pace with the changing world of technology. “In order to stay smart and transformative, customers need better visibility into and control of their IT assets,” Chintan explains. “We help customers improve enterprise-level processes and at the same time support their legacy portfolio — like building a car while driving it.”

Enterprise e-Support connected with the SBDC at the Community Business Partnership (CBP) to help solve a familiar challenge: how to do more with less. “Two years ago, we turned to the SBDC at CBP to utilize their shared services and support. Our experience with the SBDC has been great ever since,” Shikha says. “Their staff is great, and they have helped us organize and prepare for government contracting.”

Chintan and Shikha are particularly impressed with how thoroughly the SBDC advisors helped them with their federal clientele. “The federal government expects companies to have past performance, to understand government contracting, and to be able to apply their solicitations with technical and pricing proposals,” Shikha says. “A small business needs to be knowledgeable in these areas and be able to review forecasts, review agency spending habits, and more.”

The SBDC consultants have guided Enterprise e-Support through the intricacies of working with this type of client. “They provided us with training on every aspect of the process. They also helped us with our IT Schedule 70 and our 8(a) process,” Shikha continues. The IT Schedule 70 is a long-term contract issued by the General Services Administration to a commercial technology vendor. 8(a) is a federally funded business-development program through the Small Business Administration.

In addition to this vital assistance, the Dixits say they have utilized the other resources available at the SBDC to hone and improve their product. “Our team enrolled in a weeklong, SBDC sponsored, Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) for entrepreneurs,” Chintan says. “CBP and SBDC consultants sat through our product demo, provided feedback to us, and reviewed all our marketing material. Recently they reviewed and improved an EeS marketing pitch for a live TV program that gave us much needed visibility.”

Enterprise e-Support is thriving with the assistance of the SBDC consultants. They are thankful to have a trusted partner and resource to come alongside and carry some of the load. “Small businesses do a lot of heavy lifting,” says Chintan. “Just being small and running the business is a big task. You need a lot of helping hands. We are so thankful to the SBDC and CBP for being our partner and helping us grow.”

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Colvin Run Networks

Running strong: Data company thrives

Colvin Run Networks won 4 SBIR grants this year, totaling $418,000.

What happens when you have a great idea that just needs some tweaking? For founders of Leesburg-based Colvin Run Networks, Nikhil Shenoy and Rob Baranowski, the answer lies with the Loudoun SBDC and the Virginia SBDC Network.

“Colvin Run was founded with the vision of revolutionizing permitting processes using blockchain technology,” Nikhil says. “We had a whitepaper and some market research, which scored us several high-level conversations with great people, but it wasn’t easy to pinpoint where to go from there in terms of building a business,” he adds.

The Virginia SBDC Network and the Loudoun SBDC were able to provide Nikhil and Rob with a methodology to put their idea to the test through real world applications and hands-on learning. They enrolled in the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), a specialized program offered by the Virginia SBDC Network. “We started with ICAP, where we learned about the Business Model Canvas,” Nikhil explains. “Rob and I ‘got out of the building’ and did over 20 interviews in an intensive two-week session,” he adds.

The out-of-the-four-walls approach introduced by ICAP helped the team discover that permitting was the wrong platform for introducing their blockchain technology concept. The team decided to shift their approach. Nikhil and Rob applied to the Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) program. Colvin Run was successful.

“Colvin Run Networks has won four DoD SBIR Phase I awards in our first full year of business. These awards are for blockchain, big data analytics, predictive maintenance and inventory management, and data integration and fusion,” Nikhil explains. “Our strategy going forward is to build on each of these solution areas as its own line of business,” he adds.

Before the awards, the Colvin Run team relied on ICAP and Loudoun SBDC to help them find their initial footing, and they will continue to work with the SBDC for ongoing insights and strategy as they grow. “ICAP and Loudoun SBDC were critical early on,” Nikhil explains. “They helped us secure Virginia CIT grants to get started with the SBIR program and provided guidance on what it takes to win,” Nikhil adds.

“We use many of the principles learned in ICAP in our company strategy, particularly the Business Model Canvas and everything that goes along with it. It’s also great that ICAP has regular conference calls where we can hear from other entrepreneurs and continue to grow our strategic thinking,” Nikhil says.

Thanks to the strong partnership with the Loudoun SBDC, ICAP, and Colvin Run, the future is unlimited for this young company.

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Jeeva Informatics Solutions

A study in success: Jeeva creates solution for clinical trials

Jeeva Informatics Solutions received an I-Corps grant from the NSF and investment from CIT.

By any measure, Harsha Rajasimha was a successful man. With published journal articles, chapters in professional textbooks, multiple patents, honors, and awards, his work received plenty of accolades. None of these accomplishments equipped Harsha to help his baby daughter, who died from Edwards Syndrome — a rare congenital disease. Determined to honor his daughter’s memory, Harsha founded Jeeva Informatics Solutions, where he devotes a percentage of his time and his post-doctoral training in genomics and precision medicine to develop diagnostic techniques and therapeutic protocols for rare diseases.

Jeeva initially focused on next-generation sequencing and data-analytics interpretation (taking raw data and turning it into useful knowledge). In 2018, the company pivoted to address the problem of participants in clinical trials, a mandatory step in getting products to market. Patient recruitment takes time and, if anyone drops out, it takes additional effort to recruit more participants. These issues cause delays, which in turn cause the loss of billions of dollars and can render the drug-development industry unsustainable.

Jeeva is in the process of solving this critical “bottleneck” by developing a decentralized clinical trials technology platform. The premise is simple: get more people into clinical trials by reducing the burden of travel. “It’s a virtual clinical-trials platform that addresses the travel burden for participants in clinical trials. Our approach replaces 20% to 80% of visits to brick-and-mortar sites with eVisits. In other words, we are a telemedicine solution for clinical trials with long-term follow-ups,” Harsha explains.

Harsha teamed up with the Mason SBDC and Director Bob Smith to take his concept to the next level. Bob encouraged Harsha to participate in the SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP). After successfully interviewing 146 customers in seven weeks, Jeeva rose to the top of the ICAP leaderboard and was accepted into the Spring 2019 cohort of the National Science Foundation I-Corps program, which included a cash grant.

In December 2019, upon completion of the I-Corps program and following guidance from the Mason SBDC, Jeeva sought and received a round of financing from the Center for Innovation Technology (CIT), Virginia’s public venture-capital investment group.

The SBDC was crucial for filling in the gaps for Harsha and team Jeeva. “While I had solid technical, scientific, and business-development experience in the life science industry, I did not have a solid grasp of the startup process,” Harsha says. “My mentor gave tremendous support and guidance on the proven process of making go/no-go decisions faster and on building a startup company from the ground up.”

With a rapidly growing team, 2020 looks bright for Jeeva as they continue to gain traction in their field. Harsha is grateful to be able to build Jeeva’s success on a framework of solid guidance from the SBDC.

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3R Behavioral Solutions

3R creates Life Sherpa, a breakthrough assistive technology

3R Behavioral Solutions received a $30,000 grant from George Mason University. They signed a contract with DXC Technologies to modify and test the Sherpa platform for use in their Dandelion program.

Doug Meeker, an accomplished digital media and technology veteran, found out that his three-year-old son was autistic. Doug figured he had 15 years to teach Scott the skills he would need to become an independent adult. “It became my passion,” said Doug.

Doug and his team of autism experts, behavioral therapists, and parents distilled complex principles of behavior-changing techniques into three simple activities: remind, reinforce, and reward. These 3 Rs must be applied consistently for every task. “Who has that kind of patience, fortitude and time?” asks Doug. “But changing ‘who’ to ‘what’ changes everything. What has the patience, fortitude, and time? Smartphones, smart watches, computer tablets with visual and touch interfaces – the perfect assistive technology for kids with developmental disabilities.” Voila! The Life Sherpa platform is born.

Life Sherpa displays each child’s task list on his or her digital device. As tasks are learned, more are added. All the tasks build progressively, leading kids to become more independent. Proctors monitor the lists to check that tasks are properly completed.

Doug worked with Bob Smith, Director of the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercial Assistance Program (ICAP). They developed the business plan, identified possible clients, worked on the financials, etc. Bob also introduced Doug to Dr. Heidi Graff, Director of Learning Into Future Environments (LIFE) program at George Mason University. Mason LIFE helps kids with learning disabilities transition into university life. They started a pilot program, using the Life Sherpa platform with Mason LIFE students, along with a $30,000 grant.

Success! Students enjoyed the sense of freedom and independence that was possible with the reminders from the Life Sherpa, instead of being “nagged” by a person. By starting their day successfully, they had a better day overall.

“Scott, who is also a recent cancer survivor, is progressing well. He’s a sophomore at John Champe High School where he is on the cross-country and track teams. Last spring he passed his two SOL’s for the first time ever. And he never misses the bus anymore, thanks to his Sherpa,” Doug reports.

Based on their success so far, Doug and his team are now focusing on the more complex issue of job training. Helping employers hire, train, and support neurodiverse individuals in the workplace is a much larger market. 3R just signed a deal with DXC Technologies – a Fortune 500 end-to-end IT company with 6000 clients across 70 countries – to power their innovative Dandelion Program. Dandelion is an initiative that started in Australia five years ago to train and employ individuals on the autism spectrum in those high-demand tech jobs, including cybersecurity and data analytics. The 3R method continues to grow.

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