By Pamela Racer, North Carolina PTAC counselor at Western Carolina University
Survival Innovations, LLC began working with the SBTDC in 2004. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Mark Trexler at Survival Innovations (SI) and listening to his story on how the business (and its team) has grown over the past year. Mark and his team have experienced success allowing them to become the “ever-evolving” business they have always strived to be.
According to Mark, it truly takes a team for a small business to succeed during a period of rapid growth while dealing with all the new challenges that emerge from an expanding customer base. Survival Innovations LLC has leaned very heavily on SBTDC/PTAC, Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development, and the NC State Industry Expansion Solutions (IES) Military Regional Manager as key members of the team. Over the past year, SI has grown from 15 to 34 employees, expanded their customer and product base, and moved into a new manufacturing facility.
In 2012, Survival Innovations designers received the Naval Air Warfare Center’s Patent of the Year Award for the Quick Release Fitting currently used on the HBU-27/P and the Quick Release Extension Tether (QRET). After design efforts with the U.S. Navy, SI became the sole source supplier of the HBU-27/P Aircraft Safety Shoulder Harness which was incorporated into the new Aircrew Endurance Vest. Springboarding off this unique hardware and smart design integrations, SI quickly integrated the emergency release capability into other existing aircrew ensembles. The Quick Release Fitting is now being incorporated into numerous other Restraint Tethers, Aircrew Restraints, and Attenuating Tether Systems, under an exclusive commercialization agreement with the U. S. Navy.
In 2014, Survival Innovations developed the ARTS or Aircrew Restraint Tether System for the Army Air Warrior Program Office. The Army integrated the design, calling it the Quick Release Extension Tether (QRET), which attaches the survival vest to a modified Personal Restraint Tether (PRT) securing the crewmember to an aircraft anchor point. This system was fully qualified/approved, and production started in 2016.
These two programs along with the Quick Release Fitting being incorporated into numerous other Restraint Tethers, Aircrew Restraints, and Attenuating Tether Systems, forced a rapid expansion and the need for a new building for this administratively very small service-disabled veteran-owned business. The influx of new demands upon the company soon caused the team to lose focus on their core business and resulted management putting out fires and handling day-to-day problems instead of looking into the future for growth potential.
With the help of all their outside key team players, Survival Innovations has been able to keep the ship upright and direct the proper attention to critical issues that affect the company’s operations. The assistance of NC State IES is helping elevate their ISO 9100 level to that of AS9100. The IES team also conducted a Lean Manufacturing event, greatly improving processes and producing money-saving ideas across the company. New requirements on cyber-security—key to Federal contracts—are being addressed with the assistance of the SBTDC/PTAC. With oversight, the cyber-security program will not only save SI consultant costs, but also ensure a compliant, integrated program.
In March 2018, Survival Innovations was named a part of the BRASS program, a technology innovation design of the next generation AH-64 Apache Helicopter Seat. And in November 2018, SI was designated a team member of the next generation of the Air Soldier System and Air Combat Equipment aircrew protection ensemble. Having the time to return to their core business has ensured a bright spot in the future for Survival Innovations and their employees.
Mark went on to say that more could be mentioned about the great impact that outside agencies have made in the area of employment, employee training, SBIR assistance, marketing, and networking. But the biggest turnaround for Survival Innovations was the professional counseling, guidance, and assistance in areas where they had no expertise. By taking huge challenges off management’s plate, the SBTDC and IES help allowed SI to refocus their time back to their core business practice, that of design and development.