Traffax finding success overseas
Incubator company makes wireless traffic-monitoring devices
A College Park incubator company has earned the plaudits of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk for its sales success, particularly its exports to Australia and Canada.
"Traffax is a home-grown company, with a great product, exporting around the world," Kirk said.
Kirk selected Traffax, a year-old company that measures vehicle and pedestrian traffic flows through the use of Bluetooth wireless signals, to help host an international trade panel at his conference in Washington last week. The event was part of Kirk's Small and Medium-Size Enterprises Week, which was designed to encourage small businesses to explore foreign trade.
"Our business plan was focused on the U.S. initially, but our exports outsold our domestic business last year," said Philip Tarnoff, founder and chairman of Traffax, which is housed in the University of Maryland VentureAccelerator facility. Tarnoff retired from his role as a civil and environmental engineering professor at the university to spend more time growing the company.
The company uses a series of Bluetooth signal receivers that can be installed along roadsides and can have their information either stored in data chips or observed in real-time from a central location.
Traffax's big international break came from PB Australia, a planning company that needed a way to monitor the time it took construction workers to travel from location to location. Traffax is now making about 35 percent of its sales to that nation.
The second biggest chunk of sales comes from Canada, with European and domestic sales accounting for the rest. Traffax sold 85 units last year for about $4,000 each, Tarnoff said.
About 250,000 U.S. small businesses with fewer than 500 employees about 1 percent of all U.S. businesses export products, representing 97 percent of U.S. exporters, Kirk said.
"If we can educate more small businesses to begin selling outside the U.S., it's a great way to build the economy," Kirk said.
His office selected Traffax officials to speak at the conference because their discussion of exporting challenges and benefits would carry more weight than if those comments came from government officials, Kirk said.
"Certain incubator company products, such as business solutions, lend themselves well to the export market," said Chris Marschner, manager of the Technical Innovation Center in Hagerstown. He said other nations often appeal to incubator companies because they are new markets.
Tarnoff said he previously owned PB Farradyne, but it didn't export goods. Exporting's biggest challenges involve learning regulations regarding licensing, tariffs and shipping, he said.
Traffax has three employees, including its acting CEO, Peter Carnes, who spoke at the conference.
"The more transparent the process is [to export], the more clear we can be that our product arrives when it is supposed to and our customers can use that product," Carnes said.
The company has received about $400,000 from venture capitalists and state programs and is hoping for a $750,000 federal small-business grant.
Traffax also earned recognition when it partnered with the Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation and Transportation Perspectives to analyze traffic flows during July's Independence Day celebrations.