During a lunch interview with teknovation.biz at a Market Square restaurant, it was clear that the serial entrepreneur had a great deal of insight about his strengths and a commitment to focusing them not only on growing his companies, but also contributing to the success of the region.
Sponcia, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The IT Company and Digital Crossing Networks, is not a Knoxville native. He came to the region about 20 years ago when he joined Phillips and Jordan, Inc. to help build the company’s information technology department. As a 23 year-old, he wrote a construction management software package that was web-based and eventually commercialized.
“It was a little bit of being at the right place at the right time and knowing the right people,” Sponcia said, praising mentors at Phillips and Jordan including Ted and Avis Phillips and Patrick McMullen.
The experience and the recognition of being a “builder” prompted Sponcia to try his next endeavor, joining with Jimmy Rodefer to form Rodefer Moss Technologies.
“Jimmy was older than me, but he saw something in me and took a financial risk,” Sponcia said, adding Rodefer to his list of great mentors. “I was 26 years old and could not explain a balance sheet.”
He describes the 10-year journey that included changing the company’s name to Claris Networks as “a great opportunity to get an education – to take an idea and build a great company.”
It was during that period that Sponcia embraced a philosophy that he described as “wanting to build a company that does not need me.” He says it is about “hiring great talent and letting them grow.”
As Rodefer Moss and then Claris continued to grow, Sponcia said that he recognized that he was “good with ideas” and could “get people 70 to 80 percent of the way, but I needed others to go the last distance.”
This self-assessment helped him decide to exit Claris and “chill for three months.” Boredom and a friend’s request led him to every other week trips to Florida to help an IT company build a sales channel. The trips were “hard” on the family.
Sponcia also says that he “wanted to spin the lens” and see how people do it from the other side – as an employee, not a boss. This desire led him to “the most fun nine months I’ve ever had” when he joined Sonny Clark and Nashville-based Advanced Network Solutions. As Vice President for Corporate Development, Sponcia helped implement strategy to make the company better.
With his Claris non-compete coming to an end, Sponcia again evaluated where he was professionally and came to the conclusion that “I need the pressure of (being a) CEO to be the best I can be.” He did not, however, want to be in a start-up again.
The IT Company is the result of his introspection. Formerly known as CSK Technologies, it was a local company founded by Chris Kennedy whom Sponcia describes as a “brilliant technology guy.” Nadeem Sidiqqi, a local investor with whom Sponcia had developed 10 to 15 business ideas, was an investor in CSK and saw an opportunity for the three to link-up to grow the company.
“The IT market in this area is very mature,” Sponcia says, adding that there are 30 to 50 companies locally. “There is more competition and not as much opportunity because of the economy.”
The IT Company business strategy involves acquiring other similar companies throughout the Southeast. Since Sponcia’s involvement at the end of 2010, the team has acquired two companies and has a third pending. One of those acquisitions is the Digital Crossing Networks (DCN), formerly owned by Tech 20/20.
“We are buying customers, talent and reputation,” Sponcia says, emphasizing the importance that he places on culture, systems and customer integration.
DCN is operated as a separate company that Sponcia describes as similar to a condo or limited service hotel.
“We provide space, power and coolant,” he says. DCN is not just a collocation facility, but a cloud hosting company providing “Infrastructure as a Service,” meaning it allows the customer to use DCN’s infrastructure as they wish. This includes space, power and cooling all the way to hosted servers, storage and backups.
“It is a platform for customers to use what they need,’ he explains, explaining that it could be viewed as “infrastructure as a service.” Long-time DCN executive Dennis Corley has remained as part of the management team.
Sponcia has adopted a philosophy that has four dimensions – company, customer, co-worker and community – and key values – do what is right, invest in others, create value and have fun.
As he continues to “build,” Sponcia also hopes to help the community, particularly the downtown area, leverage DCN. In fact, he hopes it can play a role as an “incubator for start-ups.”