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Columnist
Lisle's SmartSignal marks 10 years of innovation
By Anna Marie Kukec | Daily Herald Columnist

Jim Gagnard, CEO of Lisle-based SmartSignal

 

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Published: 3/27/2009 12:00 AM

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What started as an idea to help companies avoid catastrophes, Lisle-based SmartSignal Corp. turned into a multimillion-dollar firm with 97 workers serving 75 customers worldwide.

SmartSignal marks its 10th anniversary today. While a reception will honor many of its supporters - Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago and some venture capitalists - the event heralds something more.

SmartSignal showed that innovative technology could springboard a company through tough times, including the tech bust in the early 2000s and today's recession. It also has plans to hire more people and expects to earn a modest profit this year. It had about $20 million in revenue last year.

"We had hoped to find an area of more need and cast a broad net at the beginning," said SmartSignal CEO Jim Gagnard.

In 1999, the company spun off with two people to establish an office in Mount Prospect. They wanted to develop a solution that would analyze a company's network of equipment and predict failures. Argonne and venture capitalists helped to seed the idea with roughly $1 million, said Gagnard.

Six months later, the company moved to Lisle and continued to hire workers. While it burned cash to perfect its products, the company began posting a profit by 2007, he said.

"We tried to be very conservative," said Gagnard.

The company serves major oil producers, as well as power generators, and those in the aviation and paper industries in the United States, Europe and parts of Asia. Last year, it made its first sale in China.

This year, they're running a pilot in Egypt and talking with companies in Russia and Hungary.

The solution has helped many companies avoid problems before they shut down systems, including one major situation at Texas-based Entergy when a 25-ton turbine failure was detected before it broke down and caused havoc at the plant, Gagnard said

While the first generation of products detects what's not normal in a network, the second generation released this year also can diagnose the problem.

"Our ultimate goal is to detect, diagnose and also predict when that equipment could fail," he said.

So the idea that began with two people a decade ago has grown "exponentially," he said, "helping a global network of industries better serve millions of people."