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Mav6 on fast track

More soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are avoiding explosives hidden alongside roadways thanks to detection equipment developed by Vicksburg-based Mav6, a 4-year-old “systems integrator” whose more than 900 percent revenue growth gave it a ranking of 373 for Inc. magazine’s 500 fastest growing private companies nationally.

Mav6 is proving you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to achieve business success; you need only to come up with new ways to use what has already been invented. And you need to do it without delay.

“We start with someone else’s product,” said co-founder Jay Harrison, who calls his approach “open-source innovation.”

“Our business model is based on leveraging commercial technology to support military requirements… employing solutions more rapidly and cost effectively, added Harrison, a Columbus native who founded Mav6 along with retired Army Major Gen. Buford “Buff”Blount, a Hattiesburg native who commanded the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division in its invasion of Iraq and battle to take Baghdad.

They have led the defense contracting company to a three-year growth of 918 percent, with 2010 revenue of $18.4 million after ending 2007 with revenue of $1.8 million. It’s added 53 “mavericks,” the company’s term for employees, in the past three years to bring its workforce to 69 people in “communities of innovation” in Vicksburg, Elizabeth City, N.C., Alexandria, Va., and Morgantown, W. Va.

Mav6’s pace of growth gave it an Inc. magazine ranking of 47th in the “Government Services” industry category.

“Most of our overall work involves threat detection,” Harrison said in an interview from his northern Virginia office.

“By and large, our emphasis is on providing enhanced situation awareness to guys in the field… to help them understand the threats they might be exposed to and detect those threats in hostile environments,” added Harrison, a Navy veteran and engineer-turned-entrepreneur whose 15 years in the defense industry netted him three consecutive “Army Greatest Invention” awards.

While helping combat troops detect improvised explosive devices, better known as IEDs, has been Mav6’s bread and butter in recent years, the young company is set to embark on much bigger work – big as in the size of the Goodyear Blimp.

Taking the technology of the ubiquitous blimp and applying it to war fighting fits right into Mav6’s mode of operation, Harrison noted.

In the end, Mav6 wants to present the Pentagon the technology for an unmanned blimp for surveillance deployment in war zones. “Every piece of hardware going into that airship is ‘commercial-off-the-shelf’ being modified for military uses, Harrison said.

Mav6’s work on the unmanned blimp project involves payload integration, according to Harrison, who said he expects the Department of Defense to renew the company’s development contract next year.

Dubbed “Blue Devil,” the airship is slated for delivery in 2012, according to the Mav6 website.

The scope of the contract “is extremely big relative to the size of the company,” he noted.

Mav6 also has launched an ambitious partnership with Mississippi State University on a technology innovation center in Vicksburg. He said his company and the university plan to break ground on the $5 million “Center for Battlefield Innovation” in 2012. “Mav6 is underwriting the cost but Mississippi State is our technology partner.”

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