Spectra group has just been awarded a Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation for its ‘Slingshot’ communications system. Spectra started when Simon moved into civilian life after 24 years in the army, where he worked in IT and communications in the Royal Signals. The business was initially set up as a one-man band, but now employs 35 people in Kingstone, Herefordshire.
The Queen’s Award is highly contested and is a noteworthy recognition of the outstanding commercial success that Spectra has achieved with their revolutionary system, SlingShot®.
SlingShot is a lightweight device that delivers game-changing capabilities to existing military and civilian radio networks. When connected to military or commercial UHF/VHF radios, Slingshot extends their range from under 50 miles to potentially 1000s of miles by utilising the commercial satellite network. Versatile enough to be used in aircraft, vehicles, maritime platforms and by individuals on the ground, Spectra is successfully marketing SlingShot internationally for military and non-military use, such as emergency services and disaster-relief, with a capability that has proved to be of critical importance and has undoubtedly contributed to the saving of lives.
Simon has built the company around quality products and services using radio and satellite technology. For their customers in the defence & security or the emergency services, communication is vital – it must work the first time, every time. “Failure is not an option” says Simon. As the company has grown, having the right calibre people in the business who share this vision of quality has become one of the major challenges for him. “We’re fairly lucky” he says “our staff have stayed around, and one third of them have been here for over 10 years, but we are always on the lookout for good people.
A second challenge is that which comes from working in the defence sector; where politics and defence budgets are closely aligned. Spectra sell to customers all over the globe, but it can occasionally take several years from meeting a new potential customer to getting everything agreed. “Budgeting within these organisations can be done 1, 2 or even 3 years out, so there is a very long lead time before we start to supply them” explains Simon. The reputation of the company is important, as different organisations talk to each other and share information. The company has worked on recruiting proactive distributors, who know individual countries and the business customs, culture and practices they follow, to enable them to supply each new market.
Spectra understand their competitive advantage in their marketplace. “It’s very useful at times to be an SME” says Simon “it means we can be flexible and agile in our approach, in a way that’s not always possible within larger organisations”. A great example of this is their Slingshot system, which took just a week to get to a working prototype stage and was on sale in under 8 months. The beauty of this product is that, although the satellite technology that makes it work is complex, people operating it find it very simple to use in practice. This advantage means the product gets many word of mouth recommendations.
Simon decided to support Mark Mental Health Marathon when his HR manager attended the inspiring Mental Health – Practical help your business seminar at Hereford Cathedral School. “This is an issue we’ll all have to deal with” says Simon “Obviously, as an ex-military man you are very aware of the impact the work in Afghanistan and Iraq had on the mental health of the personnel who served, but this is an issue that is growing in the whole of our society.
The future for Spectra will be to continue to grow organically, as Simon has turned down several offers of acquisition from larger corporations. The need to attend many international trade shows means his diary is always full but Simon relaxes by following horse racing and is comfortable with the balance of work and relaxation he achieves in this beautiful part of Herefordshire.