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Business Observer Thursday, Jul. 23, 2009 13 years ago

Gyrocam's Sanborn revels in a victory

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The news that giant global defense contractor Lockheed Martin reached a deal to buy Gyrocam Systems, one of Sarasota's rising corporate stars, is a major vindication for local entrepreneur Ken Sanborn.

The news that giant global defense contractor Lockheed Martin reached a deal to buy Gyrocam Systems, one of Sarasota's rising corporate stars, is a major vindication for local entrepreneur Ken Sanborn.

The deal, announced July 22 for an undisclosed amount, is a clear signal that the big boys of the defense industry believe in Gyrocam's core product — a high-tech, powerful camera that can be stabilized up to 30 feet above a vehicle to help battleground troops detect roadside bombs and other hazardous situations before detonation.

“It's great and gratifying to realize that the company you started and built by hanging on by your fingernails has this opportunity,” Sanborn tells the Review of the company he founded from personal savings in 2000. “Now we can go further and do more.”

While Sanborn now lauds Lockheed Martin, a $42.7 billion publicly traded company, he was of a slightly different mind five years ago, when he first conceived of the idea to use his company's cameras for life-saving military applications. Back then, Gyrocam's focus was on selling the company's gyro-stabilized cameras to law enforcement agencies to be mounted on helicopters.

But Sanborn thought the cameras could be put to an even better use. He believed in the product so much that after a marathon night and day trial and error session with his top staff, he drove a camera-mounted SUV from Sarasota to Washington D.C, to show it to some military and defense industry officials at a large trade show.

Most of the folks from the big defense companies were skeptical that Sanborn's company would be able to get the technology right, saying as much directly to Sanborn.

But after spending several million dollars in testing, Sanborn hit the jackpot: The U.S. Army wanted in. And by 2008, Gyrocam had landed a $302 million contract to build and install up to 500 mast-mounted camera systems on U.S.
Army vehicles in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gyrocam surpassed $150 million in revenues in 2008, almost all of which stems from Army work.

Sanborn, meanwhile, declined to elaborate on the particulars of the deal with Lockheed Martin, including what his future role in the new entity will be.

But he was satisfied with the current situation, one he said he reflected on the day the deal was announced has he flew from Sarasota to Los Angeles on an unrelated business deal.

“In business, everyone likes to think they have a great idea,” Sanborn says. “For me, it's extremely gratifying to have built the right foundation for a company that would attract a Lockheed Martin.”

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