Independent Consultants Training Group is taking the plunge.
The 17-year-old employee-training business has finished its third year at the Technology Assistance Center in Largo and is set to graduate from the business incubator into its new space in Lanham next month. The incubator is operated by the county’s Economic Development Corp. It’s the second consulting and information technology company to leave the incubator in a little more than a year.
Meanwhile, the county is looking to restructure its incubator program to better meet the expectations of the Maryland Technology Development Corp.
Independent Consultants generates $1.5 million in annual revenues and has contracts with federal agencies and commercial clients, said owner Latisha Ferguson.
Finding a location where she could expand her business to provide training services for the iPad and other Apple devices was a main motivation for the move, she said.
“I’d been looking for a place that did iPad training and couldn’t find one, so I decided to open a center to promote Mac products and training,” said Ferguson, who said she bought a special purse to carry her iPad.
The closest locations for this kind of training are in Columbia and Annapolis, she said.
Many businesses are not aware of the potential of the iPad, which allows users to download databases and organizational applications for portable use, Ferguson said.
She also wants to incorporate a storefront for selling computer accessories and estimates expanding her current workforce to 20 employees from six.
She said she is working on shifting away from her model of using consultants, as her business needs a more “stable” workforce as it grows and many of her consultants have their own businesses and other projects.
Although Ferguson has been able to bring some employees into her incubator space, others also work out of her office in Washington, D.C., which she shares with her mentor business, the Washington Harris Group, a health care management services company. The businesses have worked together for two years, with Washington Harris offering the space to Ferguson a year ago.
Washington Harris Group did not return a request for comment.
Ferguson said she is especially excited about having a single location for the company.
“It’s great to finally have everyone together,” she said.
She said the business also customizes training by industry, so that each sector will be trained on its particular issues.
Ferguson launched the company after her 1-year-old daughter’s health problems led her to leave her previous training job.
“The only financial backing I had was two weeks’ worth of pay in my bank account,” she said. “But I knew God would take care of me.”
Ferguson mostly did graphics work before she began to consult businesses on training. Later, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority brought her on as a prime contractor, she said. She has provided desktop computer training for the agency for more than a decade.
In 2008, her company became 8(a) certified as a small, disadvantaged business.
Ferguson said her previous employment, which involved visiting Army bases and training personnel on their financial systems, taught her how to work with clients.
“She is extremely competent as an [information technology] person and a person with business development skills,” said Lois Gray, president of Sociometrics in Washington and a professional business coach. “She’s very flexible and has taken great advantage of the training and opportunities an incubator provides.”
Gray has known Ferguson for three years and serves as her mentor.
“Latisha has all the attributes you want in a small-business executive,” she said.
Ferguson discovered the county’s incubator while waiting for small-business services at the Economic Development Corp. one day, when she caught sight of a brochure.
“They provide excellent support for resources. I’ve even partnered with their Small Business Initiative to provide training for them,” Ferguson said. “It was good knowing you have people who could find you help if you had questions.”
The incubator also allowed Ferguson to extend her office to two suites when the business started to grow, she said.
“They’ve been a good company and done what they’re supposed to. They’ve set their milestones and hit them,” said Angela Wright, spokeswoman for the economic development corporation, adding her organization is working with Ferguson to celebrate her graduation.
Ferguson will open her new office with her husband, Glenn, who will be bringing along his video business, iSkills.
Glenn Ferguson proved an asset during the Fergusons’ search for business space, as his construction experience allowed them to get a deal on the Lanham location, as long as they did their own build-out.
“That was ideal for us,” Latisha Ferguson said, adding that they will not owe rent for several months.
Ferguson said she is aiming to double or triple her revenues next year because of the expanded services.
But Ferguson also will be the last company to graduate from the incubator’s current incarnation, as the county intends to revamp it, Wright said.
Aside from examining best practice incubator models and coming up with ways to ensure tenants are adhering to the incubator’s goals, the county also is studying whether the incubator should be exclusively for technology companies, she said.