Future proof

Geoff Girdler talks about his venture Emizon, which is leading the change to IP for security signalling. By M&A’s Mark Dunne

Geoff Girdler talks about his venture Emizon, which is leading the change to IP for security signalling. By M&A’s Mark Dunne

Geoff Girdler talks about his venture Emizon, which is leading the change to IP for security signalling. By M&A’s Mark Dunne

Geoff Girdler has his sights set on change. After decades of working for electronic security companies, he realised the industry needed to move with the times and co-founded a business with his own money to make sure it happened.
Girdler had been developing secure signalling systems, which send an alarm to external centres if there is a security issue on a commercial or domestic premises, since the 1980s, but years ago he and his colleagues saw the future.

The world’s only secure signalling network is Derived Channel Multiplex operated in the UK by BT Redcare, which has never been breached, but Girdler realised that it had an Achilles heel.

Redcare’s products were analogue-based and the world was rapidly becoming digital. He and two colleagues, Gordon Smythe and Andy Whitfield, both former Redcare managers, decided to establish Emizon Group to create a signalling system for the Internet Protocol (IP) world.

“It seemed to me that the world was going that way and it was time someone took secure signalling out of the analogue environment and put it into an IP medium,” Girdler said.

But Girdler’s motives for starting the company are surprising as he claims there was no demand for the product Emizon was established to create. “At the time, there wasn’t a gap in the market ­ we had a vision that IP was the method the industry would use going forward.” Now, several years later, that vision has become a reality. Emizon 21 was launched last year with its first product sold in July. It has since sold more than 3,000 units in the UK, and Girdler is setting his sights on international markets. Emizon has already formed a US operation and is about to launch in Australia while forming agreements in Europe.

Starting out

Girdler, an engineer by trade, started his career when electronic communications in the security industry was in its infancy. His first job was building electronic monitoring and security systems for Peverel Management, part of McCarthy & Stone, but quickly moved up the management ladder.

He soon became a director of DA Systems, now Bosch Security, and then managing director of Versus Technology, part of Numerex. Versus builds the technology for BT Redcare’s systems, and once BT bought the company, Girdler started developing wireless networks in the US.

On his return to the UK, he met Smythe and Whitfield and established Emizon Group, with the company filing its first patents in 2003.

The trio had no problem funding the business as they decided to use their own money to keep the product independent. “We didn’t want to be indebted to anybody. We wanted to build a network that had a global reach and IP gives it that.” Girdler said they didn’t need a large amount of funding to develop the product. “We only had to spend some £300,000 on developing code and making the product work, so we could gather feedback to make sure we weren’t wasting our money.” As the product was developed, Girdler and his co-founders needed more funds to complete their work. To keep the business in the spirit in which it was founded, they didn’t turn to a bank for funding, but invited former colleagues to become shareholders.

Today the company has ten shareholders, with the new arrivals investing some £900,000 between them. Girdler, Gary Carter; an ex-director of DA Systems, and Smythe hold undisclosed but majority shareholdings in the business.

Figure head

Girdler was appointed chief executive due to his management experience, with Bob Tuck and Kerry Knight leading the management team. Both are former BT Redcare managers and became available last year following a restructuring at the company.
“BT go through many changes and one of the opportunities that we had was their change in the Redcare structure,” Girdler said. “As a result they became available and as soon as they did we snapped them up straight away, no hesitation.” With the product built and management in place Girdler was ready to implement his sales strategy. “The whole basis of our business is that the vast majority of commercial premises in the UK have to signal their alarms offsite for insurance purposes.
“Currently there are some 450,000 BT Redcare connections and probably another 1.2 million other devices in the UK,” he added. “So we are targeting all new installations and those that are already connected.” But it is not just the UK connections Girdler has in his sights. In August last year he opened an office in the US. The business has a manager and a technical specialist, and is currently recruiting sales people. He chose the US as his first move out of the UK as it has almost 30 million connections.
The office, which is in Atlanta, Georgia, will drive all its North America operations, including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Other markets that Emizon is targeting include Australia, where Girdler is currently talking to manufacturers, and South Africa, where he will find a partner to work with. He also plans to roll out the product in Norway and Spain, where the group has partners that can distribute the product. He will also be recruiting a representative to market Emizon 21 in France within the next two to three months.
Development capital

In January, Emizon received its first outside investment when it raised £500,000 from South Yorkshire Investment Fund (SYIF) in exchange for a 6.5 per cent stake in the business.

“The half a million from SYIF will drive us forward,” Girdler said. “We have just launched a six-month marketing campaign in the UK and some of the funds will go towards that, with the rest for product development.” Raising money from SYIF was not Girdler’s only option: “We were talking to several people who were interested in us. We found that SYIF understood what we wanted to do with our business. They are as friendly as you can get from an external funder.” In its last financial year, Emizon made a loss, but Girdler expects the business to record its maiden profit next financial year.

“To make a product from scratch is a big investment ­ it’s a couple of hundred thousand pound deal,” Girdler said. “So that’s why we won’t be profitable, we are still investing, investing, investing. This is absolutely destined to be a £50-£60 million a year company within ten years.”

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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