Malvern-based Rajant's innovative kinetic mesh networks finding broader market

Tom Paine

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Rajant Corporation (pronounced Ray-jant) is probably one of the lesser known successful technology startups in the Philly area, perhaps because its vertical markets are less visible to many locally. Founded in 2001 and headquartered on King Street in Malvern, its customers are primarily the military (its products are used in Afghanistan, for example) and mining markets. Rajant's direction after its founding was shaped by 9/11, which demonstrated the need for more resilient network architectures. It has developed a fascinating technology that serves a global market, and may have broader applications in the future.

Rajant's fundamental technology is Kinetic Mesh Networking, with emphasis on the word kinetic, meaning that various parts of the network, not only (end user) client devices but its communications nodes, may be in motion at any time. Through the combination of Rajant's BreadCrumb wireless network nodes and its InstaMesh routing software, Kinetic Mesh networks can be built to support hundreds of moving nodes (the largest now has about 300 nodes), and are designed to enable continuous and instantaneous routing of wireless and wired connections. Mesh networks typically feature a peer to peer architecture with a high degree of redundancy and fault tolerance. Rajant's wireless mesh networks in particular are designed to operate successfully in rugged terrains and harsh environments. Rajant networks can employ various communications modes and support numerous types of client devices.

Rajant's co-founders are CEO Robert Schena and CTO Paul Hellhake. Schena, who grew up in Jersey City, attended Temple as an undergrad and received a Wharton MBA. After serving as CFO of Frazer-based cable company Harron Communications (acquired by Comcast), Schena has been involved in the founding of other area ventures, including FutureVision of America, a pioneering fiber to the home video service later sold to Bell Atlantic (now Verizon), and Trevose-based Airclic. Hellhake was also involved with FutureVision.

Rajant has raised about $6 million, including $3.25 million in 2006 from Batelle Ventures, the Princeton-based VC
fund associated with the Batelle Memorial Institute, which manages some of the Department of Energy's National Laboratories. Ben Franklin Technology Partners was among early investors. Today, Rajant's annual revenues are about $20 million and have grown in each of the past six years, and the company, which employees 43 people, has been profitable for the past three, Schena told Philly Tech News in a phone interview. Engineering is based in Downington, and manufacturing and assembly of hardware for Rajant's node devices is outsourced to contract manufacturer EFE Labs of Horsham.

Schena said that military applications now account for half of Rajant's revenue and mining the other half. On the military side, last week Rajant announced a "teaming agreement" with long-time partner Northrop Grumman, to exclusively work together on "development of Advanced Meshnet Technology networks with Advanced End-User-Devices for a series of risk-reduction exercises, culminating in the U.S. Army Network Integration Evaluations (NIE) and the initial follow-on development or production program." No word now on what this might mean in future revenue potential. On the mining side, expansion in South America, including Brazil and Chile, is high on priority list, as well as in Africa.

Other developing markets for Rajant include Oil & Gas and railroads. After the Gulf oil spill, Schena started wondering how his company's technology could help improve communications between and safety on the oil platforms. As a result, Rajant proposed a network named GulfMesh, which would link most of the Gulf of Mexico's' 5,000 oil platforms. I'm not sure how far this proposal has advanced (it would probably require a larger partner), but in August Rajant added two new executives to its Oil & Gas Solutions Team and Schena expects new business from this sector soon. Rajant is also developing business in the Canadian Oil Sands and is looking at opportunities in the Marcellus Shale.

There are larger competitors, such as Cisco Systems, Aruba Networks, Inc.(NASDAQ:ARUN), and Motorola Solutions (no longer related to Google-owned Motorola Mobility), as well as smaller niche competitors. Asked whether Rajant needs a larger technology marketing partner on the commercial side, Schena said he has engaged in such discussions but the terms and conditions haven't been right.

Rajant can be said to already be into "The Internet of Things", as its networks can connect to sensors and RFID tags, and that may be another dynamic area for it in the future.

Schena, who was not trained as an engineer, said that when he was growing up in Jersey City the last thing he could have imagined himself doing would be running a technology business in Malvern, Pa.