Summit Exercises and Training, a St. Petersburg-based crisis readiness company, had its work cut out for it like never before during the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to launching the company in 2014, founder John Duda worked as an emergency medical technician – a job, he said, that taught him the mantra “improvise, adapt and overcome.”
Speaking to the Catalyst, he said, “IAO is the acronym I used to see on my professor’s wall when I was going through EMT school. And so I’ve always had the philosophy to be ready and agile.” So, when the pandemic hit, “we weren’t scrambling to address our internal infrastructure.” Duda founded the company when he was living in Washington, D.C., and moved it to St. Pete in 2015, but added remote staff members located all over the country as the firm’s portfolio — and revenue — grew.
“We had team members, prior to Covid, in 17 states,” Duda said. “We didn’t go from a brick-and-mortar structure and making everybody come into the office [to remote work]. Most our team is and was remote. We’ve been doing this from the get-go of the company.”
Today, Summit Exercises and Training offers a wide range of services to primarily federal government agencies that need help with their crisis preparedness and management needs. Its areas of expertise include terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, workplace violence and active shooter situations, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure protection, strategic communications and business continuity. Duda said the company’s staff is made up of many people who have backgrounds in the military, emergency response and law enforcement.
“We’re experienced responding to these sorts of incidents,” he said, “and we understand how close to home it is for people.”
The company doesn’t do much work in St. Pete, but recently it worked with the Tampa Police Department and other law enforcement agencies on a security and emergency response plan for Super Bowl LV. It has landed a smattering of contracts with state agencies and private companies, but the U.S. government is by far its biggest customer, Duda said, adding that Summit provided consulting services for the presidential inauguration in January.
“We do a lot of preparedness solutions, mainly at the strategic level,” he said, “but we do have some aspects of operational base preparedness, like for events.”
Three weeks after the pandemic hit, Summit had a fully developed capability statement and threw itself into testing virtual networking products like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Adobe Connect for its clients. Federal agencies, particularly the Department of Defense, otherwise known as the Pentagon, were highly concerned that Zoom calls, for example, would be hacked and sensitive information would be stolen.
“So we went through and started looking at what’s DOD-approved prior to offering any solutions to customers,” he said. “We jumped on stuff like Adobe Connect, which is what’s called Fed Brand Approved. There’s certain platforms that are approved by the federal government. When you have clients like the FBI and the Department of Energy, you want to make sure you’re taking every step to protect their sensitive information.”
Duda said Summit’s contracts are usually long term — three to five years, typically. The pandemic brought some of its work to a screeching halt but the company didn’t have to lay anyone off. And now, with a full year of expertise in helping agencies transition to the new normal under its belt, growth and hiring are accelerating.
Including its roster of regular non-employee subcontractors, Summit’s workforce has increased, Duda said, to about 40 people. Although he did not disclose the firm’s revenues, he said they’re up substantially — enough to land the company on the Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing companies. With three-year revenue growth of 167 percent, it’s ranked No. 2,469 on the list.
In addition to hiring, the growth also has Duda aiming for a greater presence in St. Pete.
“We’re looking to expand our footprint here,” he said. “We’re looking for bigger office space right now, and we’d like to start doing some training locally.”