This interview appears in the Spring 2016 Issue of The Corridor, Long Island's Journal of Strategic Alliances.
The Corridor Speaks with David Antar
A-Plus Technology & Security Solutions, Inc. exemplifies CONVERGENCE, a concept that has transformed old-school manufacturing. As a systems integrator, A-Plus marries manufactured devices to IT infrastructure, making such devices both individually “smart” and scalable, and networked and controlled centrally. Such systems together answer a multitude of ordinary real-world business needs ̶ or can avert an enterprise’s worst nightmares. The A-Plus Group of companies integrates systems of IT Infrastructure, physical security, audio-video and LED lighting for the security needs of enterprises, municipalities, and the transportation, health and education sectors. STEM education is still another part of its mission.
The CORRIDOR’s editors recently spoke with David Antar, founder and president, to learn how he had anticipated enterprise technology and systems integration earlier than most, and whether his business model offers lessons for other entrepreneurs. Over the past three years, the company has doubled in size, to reach $30 million in annual-sales. This spring, Antar was inducted into the Long Island Technology Hall of Fame.
Please tell our readers about your beginnings, and your journey. I first became knowledgeable about security when I led operations for a Manhattan moving and storage company that transported and safeguarded the valuable assets of Wall Street firms and museums. I saw the market need for security systems that integrated technology and software. So I started a company from home, and after a few years moved it to a rented space in Massapequa, then into the former LI Technology Center, where Dr. Yacov Shamash (Stony Brook University VP for Economic Development) and LISTnet introduced us to many more resources.
In 1996, we started investing in schools, as a good market to demonstrate security technology; then in ’99 the Columbine High School massacre made everyone wake up to security. Today, we are considered a national expert in school safety and security, with our installations in hundreds of the region’s K-12 schools, and at many SUNY, CUNY and other campuses. We also pursued other public security markets, and received a national award for completing the nation’s “best municipal security project” for the City of Bridgeport, CT, where our citywide, integrated security solutions were instrumental in creating a safer waterfront district, a prerequisite for driving business growth and tourism. That and other high-profile projects have earned us a national reputation as a safe-cities expert.
Our subsidiary, IPVideo Corp, was one of the first companies to offer IP (internet protocol) video surveillance, and we were the first partner, in 1996, of Axis Communications, the inventor of the IP camera (Axis has since been acquired by Canon.) Our national security solutions are sold now through our worldwide dealers to enterprises and governments.
I also saw educational applications for our services. The Bronx Borough President won a grant to upgrade middle schools’ science teaching. But $1 million wasn’t nearly enough to build or renovate walled science labs for all 28 schools. Through our new company, A+ STEM Labs, we developed a technology-rich mobile lab on a wheeled cart that costs just $60,000 apiece, and we were able to outfit all the middle schools. When the news media featured the youngsters demonstrating the lab and running the experiments with very focused determination, it went viral and STEM Labs really took off. There are now over 500 STEM Labs in use throughout NYC’s 1700 schools. Yet on Long Island, school districts are not well-funded for such projects, so it’s a struggle here.
In 2012, we placed our three companies under the holding company Advance Convergence Group so that management could better share resources and support our rapid growth---which has averaged 30% annually for the past 3 years. We’ve always been self-funded and reinvested back into the company. Then, in early 2013 we received VC equity funding of $12 million, which has fueled our recent expansion.
By year’s end we will be at 100 staff, and are outgrowing the 18,000 square foot building acquired 10 years ago in Bay Shore, LI, our headquarters. Here we do our software development, light manufacturing and assembly. Our new satellite office in Bridgeport CT just opened, and we plan to have another in New Jersey. To make procurement as easy as possible for many of our customers, we also have over 50 manufacturers on our OGS Contracts.
Do you plan to scale up nationally? What do you need to do so? Yes, we plan to scale from being a regional systems integrator to a national one. We already have dealers around the world. Now our footprint is in the tri-states and beyond and we are looking to acquire a company in Buffalo, NY to provide complete coverage of New York State. We are also putting together regional franchising models.
Will you stay on Long Island? We love Long Island’s ecosystem and will always keep our headquarters here. But it’s challenging to find funding and talent. So we are creating our own future employees through the STEM programs, to get young people excited early about technology, and we offer internships in conjunction with area colleges. We are very fortunate to have a team that includes truly visionary people. We also have a remarkable board of directors that includes Russ Artz, co-Founder of Computer Associates (CA Technologies), Dr. Shamash, and Robert Catell, Chairman of the Advanced Energy Research & Technology Center and of the NYS Smart Grid Consortium.
Software and networks are upgradable, but how do you persuade customers to invest in hardware that surely will become obsolete? We’re proponents of putting in the right technology that’s scalable and enterprise-ready. For example, we’ve used network cable in security cameras since the 1990s. Some companies are still installing analog cameras and coaxial cable because it costs less, but they will have to rip it out later. We’ve been delivering the same message forever, that you need to plan for tomorrow. We advocate for technology that uses open standards to integrate with customer environments. Even if some of these aren’t needed in the short term, the systems we install are ready for full integration of alarms, door access, intercoms, PA systems, GPS tracking of vehicles and objects, HVAC, and more. We demonstrate the true return on investment, and for affordability, offer lease financing to businesses, and municipal leasing or multi-year financing to public entities. Consider the security camera. When we started working with Axis, and its networked camera, people didn’t get why we would want to be in the “low-voltage” business. The same occurred with LED lighting. But the next generation of LED lights, we knew, would be powered by the network switch. Now we’ve completed one of the largest installed PoE (Power over Ethernet) installed LED lighting projects in the country for MINDshift.
What’s next for technology convergence? As we were growing, ironically, we heard “What will you be when you grow up? Is yours an IT company, or do you sell audio-visual, or security equipment?” and they wouldn’t invest in us because of our broad focus. But we always envisioned ourselves as the Convergence company that leverages solutions with IT smarts. On the forefront now is what is termed “The Digital Ceiling,” where the technology is hidden in the lighting and powered by the network switch. So we’ve positioned ourselves as The Enterprise Internet of Things Company, parallel to thehome-based Internet of Things. In the future, all companies will have that Convergence. By now, everyone wants to duplicate what we do.
Can you grow nationally and keep your ethos? We are relentlessly customer-focused. Even as we’ve grown exponentially, we’ve invested back into the company and our infrastructure, while increasing customer satisfaction dramatically. Many companies have a growth spurt that they don’t handle well; as a result their work product and customer service suffers. The trick is to bring the right management team in behind you with the same vision and passion for perfection.
David Antar may be reached at David@aplustechnology.com. The main website is http://www.aplustechnology.com. The STEM Labs program is described at http://www.aplusstemlabs.com. IPVideo Corporation’s website is www.ipvideocorp.com.