1985 – Genesis – Humble Beginnings
1988 – Expanded Business Model
1996 – Moving Home
2003 – German Office – Captec GmbH
2005 – Moving Home and Re-Branding
1985 Genesis – Humble Beginnings
Founded by Max Toti, an Electronics Engineer from Southampton University, with a career spanning IBM and Hewlett Packard. The company was incorporated in Nov 1984 and began trading in Jan 1985.
This was the dawn of the PC age, and by the mid 1980’s Personal Computers had started to pervade the office space with popular applications such as word-processing and spreadsheet becoming the staple diet of the modern office, replacing typewriters and calculators.
The PC was a transformational technology that enabled low cost computing to be deployed on a mass scale. Coupled with the advent of a wide diversity of innovative software companies, offering an increasingly greater selection of applications. These innovation forces created an unprecedented value proposition to assail the domain of the mainframe computer and the time-share model. Computers were now available at $1,000 not $100,000 and above.
As an open architecture, PC clones started to thrive and building block components started to emerge. This technological disruption and meltingpot presented the founding idea for the new business. Initially incorporated as Integrated Measurement Systems Ltd. The name was chosen to reflect the core business of the company, and in good measure due to lack of any inspirational names coming to mind.
The business model of IMS Ltd. was to use cost effective PC based computing technologies to integrate bespoke systems for Engineering and Scientific applications. This was a substantially smaller market, but one where applications could not be solved at the price points of mid-range computers. But the PC changed all this. Measurement, Control, Data Acquisition, Testing and many more applications could be addressed with PC based systems.
From its beginning the company took initial residence in Unit 306 of the Solent Business Centre in Southampton. This was originally a large seed warehouse that the city council had converted into 90 or so small business units, to offer start-ups a flexible renting arrangement without taking out a long lease, when the future of survival was uncertain.
1988 – Expanded Business Model
IMS Ltd. expanded and rapidly gained a solid reputation as a turnkey system solution provider for bespoke applications. From building our own computers, writing custom applications software, designing bespoke electronics boards and integrating whole systems, from sensors to commissioning and training.
The customer base grew rapidly to encompass many blue chip names including many of the past as well as the present, Plessey, General Electric, ICI, Marconi, Siemens, Ministry of Defence, Ford, to name but a few. Although PC technologies were appropriate for many non critical projects such as functional test, it was a limiting factor of PCs both in hardware and software (particularly Operating System, MS/DOS was neither stable or real-time) that they were not sufficiently robust for critical applications in Defence, Energy, Process Automation and many others. For these applications we more commonly used VME and STD bus based systems. In some more demanding projects, we also based solutions on the very popular and robust DEC PDP-11 and Micro Vax series. Mostly using real-time embedded operating systems, with software written in Assembler. Yes, Assembler! When code was tight and efficient.
A growing new breed of companies were also starting to emerge around the world, specialising in the mass market of plug-in expansion cards for the PC. Whilst many were for commercial functions, such as Graphics cards, many were starting to address measurement and control applications. Cards for A/D conversion, motor control, sensor input (thermocouples, RTD etc), relay switching and many others. As IMS integrated more and more systems we sought out manufacturers of these to form partenering relationships.
These partnering relationships resulted in early distribution arrangements with companies such as National Instruments and Advantech. Most of these were very small domestic companies in the early days, but had ambitions to grow internationally and were eager to work with specialist companies like IMS. So partnering was mutually beneficial.
From this the business model expanded further. We not only integrated bespoke systems but also started to sell add-on expansion cards, to a wider diversity of Systems Integrators and OEMs that were also starting to adopt the PC platform, as their computing architecture of choice.
As the company grew we took on more staff and more units in the Solent Business Centre. Eventually it was time to move to a purpose built facility.
1996 – Moving Home
The first property was acquired in Peel Street – Southampton. This offered the opportunity to mould the space more appropriately to the needs of the business. The premises were aptly named Sirius House – chosen because of its meaning – The brightest star in the Universe. Sirius House gave us a lot of extra room that was to be the headroom for future growth.
The company continued to grow and it increasingly became apparent that COTS (Commercially off the Shelf) PC technologies were increasingly popular in Engineering and Scientific applications for Systems Integrators and OEMs, seeking to reduce costs and increase functionality. But COTS alone was not enough and varying degrees of engineered protection was required to enable such computers to operate reliably in the applications that they were deployed.
1998 – Change of business Model, Name & Re-Branding
The 1998 business plan focused on a more scalable side of the business. That of making specialist computer systems only, rather than turnkey bespoke solutions. To achieve this plan, the company was completely restructured, re-branded and re-incorporated as Captec Ltd. Standing for Computer Applications Technologies. This led to the closing down in 1998 of IMS. Because of the very close relationships we had with many customers we offered on-going support for as long as was deemed commercially viable. In some cases this support continued up to 10 years after the closure of IMS.
With the new business model Captec now fully focused on designing and manufacturing Industrial and certified computers as well as distributing PC plug-in cards for specialist engineering and scientific applications.
2003 – German Office – Captec GmbH
By 2003 the ambitions of the company were to attempt to grow into Europe. An office was set up in Stuttgart and a German legal entity was incorporated. Ceptec GmbH was formed.
The German market proved very challenging, with a number of local companies with similar capabilities to Captec, able to outcompete on price and local presence and support. The distributor business model also proved difficult to transplant, as the majority of our distribution principals had established distribution agreements with German companies. The ability to sustain the same business model in Germany proved too challenging and in 2009 the Captec office was closed. All German business has since been serviced from the UK office.
2005 – Moving Home and Re-Branding Again
Although it had been extended to its limits, by late 2004 Sirius house had become like a sardine can. We had grown to a size where we required substantially more space. So by the end of 2004 the second property was acquired in Brunel Way – Fareham, and the business relocated in March 2005.
The move was also punctuated by an opportunity to refresh the Captec Brand. At this time the logo was refreshed and a new strap line of Tried, Tested, Trusted was introduced as it was felt that after 20 years in the business we had earned our stripes and we were a truly Trusted brand by a considerable number of companies, both national and international.
2006 – Canadian Office – Captec Americas Inc. & Refinement of the Business Model
A second attempt was made to international expansion. This time based in Canada to provide a springboard into the North American market. Captec Americas Inc. was incorporated in the state of Ontario, based in Kitchener, a short distance to the west of Toronto. Kitchener is part of a 3 city Technology Triangle (Kitchener, Cambridge & Waterloo) where a significant concentration of Canada’s high technology sector is located.
One of the lessons from the German experience was that distribution agreements are not easily scalable, particularly as a company grows internationally. It also limits the business model in offering to the market what the principal wishes to be distributed. Captec’s model was increasingly based on an independent assessment of customer’s computing requirements, and offering them the best value solution, not the solution based on products we distributed.
By 2006 the business model was further focused on only computers and all distribution contracts were lapsed. Captec could now established itself as a totally 100% independent designer and manufacturer of Industrial and Certified computers. We have kept true to this business model to date, as it has served our purposes well.
2012 – Re-Branding and Mapping out an IPO Journey
Since moving to Brunel Way we have continued to grow and expand the facility. Each year new projects reclaim more space and create more depth to our capabilities. A mezzanine floor extension, an extension to our Engineering and Customer Service Centres, a new front car park, an EMC chamber, and so on. But once again we are close to the limit of the capacity of this facility and soon it will be time to move to a new, bigger home once again.
As the company has grown it has been entirely self funding. It has consistently re-invested profits, in its infrastructure and capabilities as well as in its balance sheet. Where today it boasts one of the strongest balance sheet in the industrial computing industry.
Our balance sheet has been strengthened to enable us to make more sizable leaps in our growth, by further self investment as well as planned acquisitions. These are part of a more ambitious mission, to undertake a Stock Market Floatation with an Initial Public Offering (IPO) planned for 2018. Through the floatation, we seek to:
- Gain access to capital for onward investment and acquisitions in order to expand Captec’s brand and market reach internationally.
- Reward our people for their efforts and contributions towards the achievement of this milestone.
- Attract and retain the highest-calibre talent.
Our ambition is to become a leading international brand in the field of industrial and certified computers. Applications requiring these computers continue to expand at a far greater rate than commercial enterprise computers. Expertise and know-how in these specialist fields are not capabilities that can be grown quickly. We therefore believe we have a very scalable business model and will endeavour to groom this in preparation for our IPO.
Another refresh of the brand has been undertaken. Not least to support the launch of the new website, but also to focus the definition on the specific core differentiation of “The Yellow Line”. The bondary between the benign and hostile environments where computers need to operate. The brand refresh makes a new statement defining our expertise to work Beyond the Yellow Line.