Reading the room
Inc. 5000 companies pursue smart growth
In 2017, David Kern, a retired Naval submarine officer turned entrepreneur, had a lightbulb moment. While working on a data analytics project at a desk in the Naval Station Norfolk annex, he realized that his company, Virginia Beach-based Kern Technology Group LLC, needed to shift from focusing on product development to becoming a service contractor.
“It wasn’t until I was actually sitting with my customer, the U.S. Navy, and sitting there and seeing what they really need on a day-to-day basis, that it became clear that I needed to refocus the company in order to grow,” says Kern, who founded his company in 2010 and serves as its president.
Two years later, in 2019, Kern Technology Group won its first service contracts. Now, the company mainly provides engineering services to help get ships ready for deployments.
In late August, Kern Technology Group had 30 employees and eight subcontractors, up from three employees in 2019. Kern plans to hire another 15 people this year, largely to focus on data analytics.
Kern Technology Group led the Hampton Roads businesses on the 2022 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing privately held companies, coming in at No. 261 with a three-year revenue growth rate of 2,053%. The company’s 2021 revenue exceeded $5 million, Kern says.
Four other Virginia Beach companies ranked within the top 1,000 companies on the Inc. 5000 list, representing industries ranging from consumer services to government contracting to real estate.
With an 854% growth rate, British Swim School placed 737th overall and second in the region. The company provides swimming lessons for people ages 3 to 70-plus and has locations in 24 states, Canada and Turkey.
Jumping from No. 1,033 in 2021 to No. 805 this year, Matbock develops technologies and products for the “soldier, sailor, Marine [and] airman,” says Matbock co-founder and CEO Sean Matson. Its products include an autofocus accessory for night vision goggles and Ghost, a proprietary clothing material that dissipates heat, is waterproof and doesn’t absorb biochemical agents.
Matson and his co-founder, Zach Steinbock, are former Navy SEALs. They started the company in 2010 and introduced its first product, a cargo net, in 2012. At its founding, the company consisted of Matson, Steinbock and a volunteer. Now, Matbock has 35 employees.
Matson credits the company’s growth — 786% over the past three years — to its growing recognition from defense clients. “People know us in the defense industry as innovators. … We really look at how to take what everyone else is doing and hyper-accelerate it into something that is actually innovative,” he says.
In early August, Matbock won a $6.9 million prototype other transaction authority (OTA) agreement to develop a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle Hybrid Electric Vehicle prototype for the U.S. Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office. The company is building the prototype in its Virginia Beach facility, with a June 2023 delivery deadline.
Kern also attributes his company’s growth to a solid reputation and word-of-mouth: “To me, the growth engine is not marketing. …What enables us to grow is having happy customers, and they spread the word and that allows us to compete for new customers.”
The fourth fastest-growing company this year in Hampton Roads, Vectrona LLC, provides technology development, operational support services and management services, largely to the defense community. Past clients include the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Navy’s U.S. Fleet Forces Command and Danville Community College. Vectrona ranked No. 880 overall.
Real estate closing services company Priority Title & Escrow LLC fell from No. 793 in 2021 to No. 984 this year but had a higher growth rate: 617% to 661%. This is the company’s second consecutive year in the Inc. 5000’s top 1,000.