Technology was radically different when Heather Blease launched EnvisioNet's Brunswick call center in 1995. So was the business model. The focus of Blease's new company is on government contracts to which Blease hopes her company will have special access because of two U.S. Small Business Administration programs giving preferential contract consideration to businesses at closed military bases and businesses owned by women. While federal work is the centerpiece of Blease's new venture (and yes, they're hiring — 80 to 100 to start), there are many factors that brought her back in business. The following is an edited transcript:
Mainebiz: Why did you choose to launch SaviLinx at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station?
Heather Blease: There's some strategic advantages for locating in a base that has been closed. The SBA certifies that as a HUBZone. My hope is that SaviLinx will become a HUBZone-certified business, which has the advantage of certain government set-asides when it comes to competing for contracts.
M: The fall of EnvisioNet in 2001 was largely a result of companies like Microsoft and Dell deciding to outsource call center work abroad. What's changed since then?
HB: Much of what's different is what's inside my head — I've learned a lot over the last several years. But when it comes to a direct comparison to the troubles that EnvisionNet had with Microsoft outsourcing to offshore companies, our target market for SaviLinx is the U.S. government and they don't outsource offshore. The contracts tend to be five to seven years long and they tend to pay more than some of these other commercial contracts. Although the what-we-do looks similar, the business as it's constructed is actually quite different and I think has a much more stable clientele.
M: Lately, instability seems to be the mood over federal spending.
HB: Of course, federal spending has its challenges, as it always will; however, the amount of business that is outsourced to contact centers is still very large and the contracts are coming up for renewal and new ones are coming out. Overall, the spending may be under pressure but the service still needs to be provided. For example: 1-800-Medicare — somebody needs to answer that phone when it rings.
M: Do you have any contracts in the works you can tell us about?
HB: I can't share anything until the ink is dry, but we are actually very busy with prospects. As soon as we announced that we were in business, we've had a number of companies approach us and we have been included in some bids already for government work.
M: How is hiring going?
HB: We are just starting; we hope to begin taking our first calls early in May.
M: What remains to be done before SaviLinx is up and running?
HB: What is really exciting to me is that we are using cloud-based infrastructure to run our contact center, so we don't have a physical switch. We use the cloud-based contact center software and it's a pay-as-you-go type technical solution. In the EnvisioNet days, we'd have to spend $1 million to $2 million [up front] on a switch and in this case, it's a monthly operating expense, and so a much better scenario for us.
The technology that we are deploying has made it so we can bring our center up relatively quickly — very quickly, actually. We could bring up new contracts at the speed that we can hire and train new people — the technology does not cause us to lag, because it's so affordable.
M: What is going through your head now in the run-up to opening the doors?
HB: It reminds me a little of EnvisioNet, where you start to formulate a business plan and start talking to people and start looking at the fundraising pieces and there comes a day when you actually have to say, "I'm doing it or I'm not." And that day has come and gone: I've signed a [five-year] lease and made those commitments.