With two workers, a small office and little experience on Maui, Brandon LaBonte quickly brought his company to the Valley Isle and hired more than two dozen employees to work in high-technology jobs.
LaBonte, chief executive officer of Ardent Management Consulting, was named the 2013 Maui County Small Business Person of the Year on Wednesday.
The SBA's Hawaii District Award Selection Committee recognized LaBonte for bringing federal contracting dollars and creating about 30 new high-technology positions on Maui in the past two years. At the same time, the firm has doubled its revenue and has secured multiple-year federal government contracts.
"It's pretty exciting," LaBonte said. "We literally started with two software developers in a small leased conference room."
The Virginia-based company branched off onto Maui about two years ago, starting off in a 300-square-foot conference room in the Maui Economic Development Board's building in Kihei.
Since then, the Valley Isle office, or principal office, has expanded to 5,500 square feet and has about 30 employees.
"It was a tough start, and people weren't sure we were going to make it," he said. "The support from (MEDB President and Chief Executive Officer) Jeanne Skog and the Maui Economic Development Board was tremendous; without them this wouldn't have been able to work."
Skog said that LaBonte's firm has come a long way quickly. She attributes some of the progress to MEDB being "right within their midst."
"The close proximity allowed us to have more hands-on interactions," she said. "We helped them with publicity opportunities, introducing them to the University of Hawaii, the County of Maui and even (the late) Senator (Daniel) Inouye."
Skog and the board helped LaBonte build a workforce on Maui, which helped the firm avoid costly out-of-state hirings.
Although the government program requires LaBonte to have a fully staffed principal office, he said he wanted to hire locally whenever he could. Hiring residents was much more cost-effective, and there were plenty of quality workers on the island, he said.
The firm also recently hired a local recruiter to accompany the rapidly expanding company, which is looking to expand its Maui office.
Skog said she was happy that LaBonte was recognized for his work, and that the firm is a great example of MEDB's mission statement, which is to provide diversified technologies to support Maui's economy.
"We congratulate Ardent on achieving this recognition," Skog said. "It's very exciting."
Although its company headquarters are in Virginia, much of the technology is built on Maui and deployed to Washington, D.C.
Maui was chosen as a part of the Historically Underutilized Business Zones program, where the federal government seeks to spread its contracts and improve economies throughout the country, LaBonte said. The island's geography and economic challenges, in respect to diversification, made it "light up on the map."
Founded in late 2006 as a management consulting firm, Ardent blossomed into a high-tech software firm that serves several government organizations such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice.
The purpose of the firm, according to company officials, is to provide, "geospatial situational awareness technology solutions to the federal government, ranging from custom-developed common-operating pictures to commercial-based mobile event management systems."
LaBonte likens the operations to the television show "24."
"You see these operation centers and how they operate to support the federal government," he said. "It's not quite as exciting or theatrical, but the missions are no less exciting."
Interactions between the offices are primarily through videoconferencing, and he said he travels to the Maui office about once every two months.
Traveling on a 10-hour flight to Maui is certainly not the worst thing in the world, he said, recalling vacationing on the island before the expansion.
"I remember thinking, 'My gosh, wouldn't it be great to work here?' " he said. "I never thought in a million years we would have a significant operation out there. When I think about it, it's almost surreal."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.