Tucked away in a non-descript building on the outskirts of the Holston Army Ammunition Plant (HAAP) lies Protokraft - a small company known worldwide for its inventive fiber optic components used daily in the global defense and commercial aerospace industries.
Protokraft was formed in 2003 by Florida transplants Randy Lord and Bob Scharf. The company was one of the first tenants in the Holston Business Development Center (HBDC), an incubator for small business.
Lord and his wife, Stephanie, moved to the area after Lord and Scharf sold their Florida company. Scharf initially stayed in Florida. Stephanie grew up in Asheville, N.C., and had a strong desire to return to the mountains.
She and Randy knew, at some point, he would want to start another business and both agreed the Asheville area was too expensive for a start-up venture. At the suggestion of a friend, the couple turned its attention to the Kingsport area.
"Randy and I came to the area and looked around, and I fell in love with Rogersville," Stephanie said. The couple bought a farm near Rogersville, and Randy soon began making plans for another business venture. Randy called his long-time friend and one-time partner, Bob Scharf, and asked if he would consider relocating to Tennessee. Bob immediately agreed and packed up and moved to Tennessee.
Following their relocation to Tennessee, the Lords also encouraged other family members to make the move, and all moved and purchased homes in the area.
The move to HBDC was easy because the facility provided the entrepreneurs with everything they needed - office space, a conference room, a receptionist and communications. The hard part was figuring out what they wanted to do with their new business. Both were trained engineers and veterans of the telecommunications industry, and both knew they wanted to create a product that would revolutionize telecommunications through the use of fiber optics.
The product they eventually invented and created turned out to be a "huge star" for global defense. And this "huge star" wasn’t exactly what the two set out to invent. In fact, it was really a matter of luck that led Randy and Bob to this military contract.
"We had been dealing with a salesman looking for parts. And this particular salesman just happened to be at a huge Army base with generals and colonels discussing a problem they were having with rocket launchers. He told the Army what he thought we were making, and the Army asked him to call us. And he did," Bob explained.
What the Army wanted and needed wasn’t exactly what the pair intended to invent. Since Protokraft was in the start-up phase and not heavily invested, the owners were able to re-direct their attention to the military needs. And that product, which cannot be specifically named due to security, turned out to be a huge success for everyone involved. A success that led to millions of dollars in revenue for Protokraft - dollars that helped the company get started and move from HBDC to its current location on the HAAP site.
The product remains in production today and its continued achievement led Protokraft to further discussions in the global defense arena and the commercial aerospace industry.
Protokraft provides product to 16 foreign countries, and recently started development on new communications technology that will be used in the Airbus A-350 and Boeing 787. Bob said Protokraft has Airbus orders extending into the year 2026.
Both Stephanie and Bob said Protokraft has seen record growth in the last four years. Bob, in particular, is optimistic about the company’s future.
"We are quite optimistic about the future. Our international customers are growing and, last month, 50 percent of sales was outside the United States, an interesting situation for a relatively small company. To us, that is a demonstration that our technology is unique because that would not be happening if Protokraft didn’t have something really distinctive to offer," he said.
For more information on Protokraft, visit the website at http://www.protokraft.com/.comments powered by Disqus