By Becky Hurley

Location: Colorado Springs

Founded: 1997

CEO and President: Jay Jesse

Employees: 650 full-time and 75-100 subcontractors

Smart apps for special opps have propelled Colorado Springs software maker ISS to #65 in Inc. 5000’s rankings

Intelligent Software Solutions rocketed to the top of Inc. 5000’s rankings to the No. 65 spot after just eight years in business.

From 2003 to 2011 the firm, which makes software for the Department of Defense, government agencies and police and public safety users, saw “huge growth,” according to CEO and Founder Jay Jesse. It has ranked among top Inc. 5000 companies every year since 2004, and last year generated close to $200 million in annual revenue, even as Congress moved to cut defense spending.

The firm started with 10 employees, all with military backgrounds and various levels of security clearance. In its first year, ISS was awarded a contract to create data analysis tools for the United States Air Force. Its applications proved to be surprisingly adaptable for use by multiple branches of the military. One contract soon led to more.

That’s because for the first time, ISS software engineers were able to bring key information from high-level databases together. As the company’s products and services began to attract increasing attention from the Pentagon, Jesse decided his business model would be different from the competition.

Traditionally companies that provided data or software applications to the government typically charged a fee for each new application or project.

“Early on, we decided to just give it (software information) to the military for across the board use – without charging a licensing fee for each application. I think that’s why our (government) customers like us,” Jesse explains, adding that his business model has proven a good value for the taxpayer.

Today the company’s marketing strategy is word of mouth referrals, attending national conferences to stay in touch with customers and building on a solid reputation.

“We’re well-known inside the Department of Defense,” he says.

As wars and resources have shifted geographically, ISS has continued to provide information valuable, both to strategic mission commanders and to forces in the field.

One example: Soldiers preparing to meet with a tribal leader in Afghanistan need immediate background intelligence before putting troops at risk.

“Is the guy they’re meeting with a bad guy. Does he have Al Quaeda connections? Or he is a village leader they can trust? We run a check on him through our system and get results back within a few hours,” Jesse explains.

After years of exponential growth based on military projects, however, the company has begun to diversify. Two of its new target markets include domestic and international police and public safety teams.

With global concerns like terrorism and narcotics trafficking on the rise, ISS database information is becoming a valuable tool at home as well in Europe, Asia and Africa. To meet that growing need, last year ISS opened offices in London and Rome. It has also begun doing some “small jobs” for Fortune 100 companies. So far, however, 85 percent of the company’s revenue is generated by DOD and U.S. government work.

“We’ve developed some amazing tools – some cool stuff – most we can’t talk about,” he says.

Challenges:For the past four or five years, not being able to predict what the Department of Defense budget will look like, especially when it comes to purchasing enterprise-wide data and systems. That makes it difficult to plan how to best allocate resources.”

Opportunities: “With reduced military budgets, ISS products and services will be considered a value. On the commercial side, we see a growing market for domestic and international police and public safety.”

Needs: Data and enterprise software engineers. Finding skilled talent with the skills, background and security clearance we need is an ongoing challenge.