Growing anti-counterfeiting company finds Secret City a perfect fit
“It was my salesperson who suggested Oak Ridge,â€ says Stealth MarkÂ® president & CEO Rick Howard, recalling how he first considered moving his company from Minnesota to the Secret City. “The building we were in up in Minnesota was small compared to what we needed for expansion and, frankly, it’s colder than you-know-what there.â€
So in late July, Howard and his wife took a road trip to east Tennessee and spent three days in Oak Ridge.
“We were both quite happy with what we saw,â€ he says, and with the help of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, found the perfect location for Stealth Mark’s new headquarters, a building twice the size of the company’s former home.
“It’s a good story because he reached out to us,” says Parker Hardy, president & CEO of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce. “He was looking for a smaller community, one interested in a small business that has the potential to grow but also a community that would understand the technology behind Stealth Mark. We knew in our first conversation that it would be an immediate and natural fit, so the process moved quickly.”
Stealth Mark needs particular professional talent [and] there is all the talent here I could possibly want
Stealth Mark’s Intelligent Microparticle Technology
“Stealth Mark is an anti-counterfeiting organization,â€ Howard explains. “We produce microparticle technology to apply to products to validate their authenticity. We also do digital research into counterfeit activity and have special tools to look online and identify where activity is occurring.â€
“We fit in quite well in the art world,â€ Howard continues, telling the story of a client who is in the business of authenticating high-end art. “What happened to him is that he authenticated a painting, then the buyer brought it back three months later and said, ‘This is a forgery.’ He had no way of knowing whether it was the same painting he had checked to begin with. We provide him with code marks, so whenever a painting comes back he can validate that it’s the same piece he checked.â€
The process involves generating Stealth Mark taggants “using a proprietary material that creates a unique numeric code that is assigned meaning by the customer,â€ explains the Intelligent Particles page on the Stealth Mark Web site.
“The difference with our technology is that we created an automated software to be able to read those taggants anywhere, anytime,â€ adds Howard. “Rather than having to have a microscope and having someone physically look at them, our reader reads and our software tells you right away who the item belongs to. We are creating a system where people can verify [authenticity] years and years down the road.â€
Of course, the technology can have an immediate impact, too, useful for customers who are fearful of counterfeit parts entering their supply chain, or those who want to combat illegal redistribution.
“Our particles are often used for diversion tracking, when a product is sold into a market where the product is not supposed to be,â€ Howard explains, for example when high-end salon products end up with retailers not licensed to sell them.
Oak Ridge Workforce, Quality of Life Are Big Draws
As one might expect, the quality of the local workforce held strong appeal for Howard, and was a big factor in choosing to make Oak Ridge home.
“Stealth Mark needs particular professional talent,â€ he says. “We need information technology people, chemists and color recognition technicians. There is all the talent here I could possibly want.â€ Howard notes the presence of Oak Ridge National Laboratory with its 1,300 Ph.Ds, not to mention all the other organizations that feed into it.
But he doesn’t discount the importance of quality of life, or the relatively low cost of living.
“I like to think we’re a small town but we have big-city amenities and big-city technologies,â€ Hardy says.
Howard agrees with that assessment, noting that he appreciates the small-town feel, while at the same time having easy access to Knoxville and all that it has to offer, including the University of Tennessee.
“I have been very impressed with the people here,â€ Howard says, adding that he expects to soon grow the company to 25 employees. “Oak Ridge has everything we need and things are really starting to take shape.â€