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Forensic engineering firm seeks defense work: New initiative hopes to help other local firms follow in Wolf Technical's footsteps

February 12, 2007

After 30 years in the forensic-engineering business, Wolf Technical Services Inc. has analyzed everything from deadly car crashes to patent infringement.

Now, Indianapolis-based Wolf is hoping to diversify into a new area: federal defense contracting. It's a field local corporate leaders hope Indiana will tap much more frequently in the years to come.

"We don't quite know at the moment where this could lead," said Wolf Director of Client Relations Joseph Ward. "And that's the fun part."

The 30-employee Wolf's bread and butter long has been the reconstruction of accident scenes for the courtroom. Its engineers painstakingly analyze evidence left over after car crashes, building fires or workplace accidents, then offer their expert opinion as to what happened and why. The firm offers the same skills on questions of copyright infringement.

Since 1977, Wolf has analyzed 20,000 incidents for 4,000 clients. Along the way, it developed a reservoir of ideas about how to improve personal safety. As a result, with the help of Purdue University and the Indiana Economic Development Corp., it has created a restraining device for use in military helicopters.

Leaders of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership's new advanced manufacturing, distribution, transportation and logistics initiative hope Wolf soon will be one of many Indiana companies generating more defense industry business from the federal government.

Much as BioCrossroads did for the life sciences sector, the CICP's new advanced manufacturing initiative will attempt to foster networks of businesses that can leverage Indiana's industrial strength. Its first focus has been federal defense contract opportunities.

Plans call for formally launching the advanced manufacturing effort, and rolling out its brand name, by the end of the month.

The initiative already is well on its way to accomplishing its first goal. Since last fall, its manager, Lisa Laughner, has concentrated on creating a database of Indiana's defense-industry assets, such as its military contractors and subcontractors, as well as a catalog of university-based defense research.

The database also includes every Indiana-based patent or patent application with a potential market at the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security or NASA.

"Now that we know what the opportunities and assets are, phase three is to take those and find the specific strategies to put in place to go after those opportunities," she said.

Brose McVey, who assisted with the defense survey through his government consulting firm Nexpointe Strategies LLC, added: "There's some pretty-big-ticket opportunities over the next 10 years we think we could make progress toward. But it's going to take commitment and directed energy."

Assistance navigating federal waters is just what companies like Wolf need. Wolf's device, which tethers occupants who must move about helicopters, absorbs much of the deadly G-force that results when the aircraft must suddenly tilt or roll in combat. With the Air Force as its sponsor, Wolf Technical has built a prototype of the device.

It has cost several hundred thousand dollars so far-a large sum for a small services firm. Grants from the federal Small Business Innovation Research Program offset some of the cost. Another pending matching grant from the IEDC should also help. But Wolf Technical needs more federal funds to complete the device's development and bring it to market.

And even though federal contracting is a promising opportunity, Wolf must be careful not to take its eye off its established forensic engineering clients, which still provide the vast majority of its revenue.

"The risk is to compromise the core business," Ward said. "It is a very fine line being a small company."

Expert assistance might be the key to unlocking Wolf's potential. When companies seek grants, the path to success is correctly understanding the application process, said Del Schuh, who ran Indiana's Business Modernization and Technology Corp. until it was absorbed two years ago by IEDC.

Schuh noted that only about 3 percent of unassisted applications are approved, while more than one-third of requests written with the assistance of a federal contracting expert win funding.

"An entrepreneur, at best, is lucky to write a proposal to get a contract from another private firm, let alone the government," Schuh said. "I think the state is

doing a lot of smart things in that arena."
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