Seven Small Jewels, 2011: The Avascent Group

The Avascent Group

Steve Irwin HQ: Washington, D.C.
Additional Offices: None
Billable Consultants: 64
2009 Revenue: $12.8M
2010 Revenue: $17M
Revenue Growth: 33%
2011 Revenue: $21M (projected)
Client Industries: Manufacturing, Public Sector, IT
Service Line: Strategy

“These guys always deliver on budget and on time, without any question.” That’s what a client said recently about The Avascent Group when he was introducing Steve Irwin to a colleague. Irwin, president of the firm, says he can’t think of a better client endorsement.

Apparently, a lot of them feel this way about The Avascent Group, which serves clients in the defense, aerospace, logistics, materials and IT industries whose primary customers are governments. “A lot of the client relationships we have go back five, 10, 15 years,” Irwin says. “Once we start working with a client, we tend to stay with that client for a very long time. We grow with a company, and they sort of bring us along with them. Clients know they are going to get great value.”

That’s because The Avascent Group is not a typical Washington, D.C.-based consultancy, Irwin says. “There are a lot of firms in Washington that consult on government issues that provide the 50,000-foot view, but can’t translate that down into some sort of detailed understanding of what the opportunities look like and provide some guidance on what the next step is,” Irwin says. “That’s what we do. Our focus is very much on the growth side of the ledger, and we typically interact with the heads of strategic planning, business development and corporate development. And we’re a very analytically rigorous firm, which is also unique for this space.”

The Avascent Group was launched in February 2007 when Steve Irwin helped lead a management buyout of DFI Corporate Services, where he served as president. (DFI Corporate Services was a subsidiary of DFI International.) Since that time, the firm has achieved significant and steady growth, much of it, Irwin says, because it has emerged as one of the leading players in M&A. “We’ve always done M&A work, spinning out of the strategy work we did for our corporate clients,” he says. “But over the last few years, our work with private equity has grown significantly in helping them understand what’s going on in the government space.”

So, the firm invested a great deal of time understanding the customer’s interest and mission and how that ripples back through the supply base, and what it means for clients, Irwin says. “We’ve grown that work largely based on that analytic understanding of how all that translates,” Irwin says. “That’s really a core theme throughout most of our work—translating high-level views of different missions into some sort of actionable plan for clients to be able to better position themselves.”

And it has led to big successes. In the last two years, The Avascent Group has increased its headcount 50 percent and will end 2011 with about 75 billable consultants, Irwin says. In addition, the firm has grown revenue 65 percent during that span.

“Our competitors have a hard time attracting and retaining really talented people, and I think it’s something we’ve done really well,” Irwin says. “We bring in extremely bright people and give them a chance; I think that environment draws out the best in folks, and I’m pleased we’ve been as successful as we have.”

But there’s probably a limit on how big the Washington office can be, Irwin says. “I think once you hit 120 or 140 people, culture starts to break down,” Irwin says.” I think the challenge for us is: can we take the model we have built here and transfer it geographically to other places?”

To that end, Irwin says the firm is looking to expand internationally, with Europe being a prime target—probably sometime in either 2012 or 2013. “Our work for international clients has grown a lot over the last 18 months,” Irwin says. “In Europe, there is a real opportunity, I think, for us to translate what we do here, there. I think that’s where we’d like to ultimately end up.”

—Joe Kornik