After 25 years in the telecommunications industry, Edward Dort noticed two growing trends: an increasing number of retired veterans needing employment and an expanding “telematics” field seeking workers.
Telematics—telecommunications and informatics combined—focuses on transmitting computerized information. Just as the field bridges the distance gap, Dort’s firm, Directional Command, “connects the dots” between veterans and the telematics utilities sector.
The 5G wireless and broadband internet services are revolutionizing the telecommunications industry, Dort says, but the workforce is shrinking. The federal government estimates 25 percent of the utility industry workers will retire in the next few years, and industry organizations project that upward of 1 million new workers will be needed for services such as deploying 5G wireless infrastructure and then maintaining those utilities.
“I saw a huge market, and that it would continue grow,” Dort says.
Dort, who attended West Point for two years and was in training for active duty when he was injured and honorably discharged in 1980 (prior to graduating), says veterans are well-trained to work in various conditions and have strong technical skills, but often face difficulty securing civilian jobs.
“Once a veteran leaves the military, whether they’ve been in five years, 10 years, 20 years, they really get away from their community,” Dort says, “and people don’t necessarily understand what they’ve done and the skills they have.”
Directional Command seeks to provide leadership, coordination and expert ability in carrying out major projects in the telematics, utility, infrastructure and telecommunications fields, often for the government. Dort encourages his employees to apply their military training to their new positions, and also offers industry-specific training for projects such as providing turnkey services for wireless telecommunications carriers, transmission routing services, distribution using GIS and WMIS software, and GPS telematics for tracking and monitoring.
Dort launched Directional Command in January 2017, after completing the basic course in the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program at Florida Gulf Coast University. He also participated in the program’s advanced course in 2018, which he says provided him additional education and training in order to grow the business.
The tuition-free, 13-week program provided online courses and on-campus workshops for veterans who qualify, and he still maintains a relationship with his mentor, Mark Bole, an entrepreneur-in-residence at FGCU. Directional Command also received $15,000 in seed funding by winning a business idea pitch competition hosted by the program earlier this year.
Dort says registering as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, a Department of Defense outreach program, also gave him a competitive edge.
He started winning bids on projects just months after establishing the company. In summer 2017, Dort won four federal projects and one major civilian project. The company is working on another federal contract as well.
In fall 2017, Directional Command trained veterans on special tools to perform audits on 35,000 utility poles in rural New York in preparation for the deployment of broadband internet services. The project that could be renewed and extend another two years, he says.
Directional Command, which has two full-time and five contract employees, is looking forward to winning multi-year projects in the $1 million to $5 million range in 2018, and subsequently hiring more veterans, he says.
“We’ve demonstrated that we can stay in business, we’ve developed past performance [winning business and working for government and commercial clients], and then I’ve also been profitable,” Dort says. “So now it’s really trying to take the company to the next step.”