Originally from Upstate New York, George Woodruff, President and Founder of Raider Outboards, Inc., spent the first 30 years of his career working for IBM Federal Systems. With degrees in Engineering and Computer Science, along with executive leadership training, Woodruff rose through the ranks making significant impacts within the business development side of IBM. In 1991, he took a job with The Hughes Aircraft Company in El Segundo, CA, where he worked on military programs, F22s and several classified projects. Following Hughes, Woodruff took a position with Lockheed Martin in New Hampshire. As Program Manager in the Advanced Programs Division, he worked with advanced technologies and additional classified projects. When Lockheed Martin acquired IBM Federal Systems, they wanted Woodruff to return to where he started. Instead, he "retired" and moved to Florida.
"I had a friend living in Central Florida," Woodruff said. "When I came down to check it out, I really liked what I saw. Titusville is home to Eckler's Corvette, one of the leading companies for Chevy Corvette Parts and Accessories. At the time, all I wanted to do was work on my Corvette, hunt, fish, play golf and relax. After six months of 'retirement' I got bored."
Identifying an Opportunity
Woodruff identified an opportunity and bought a commercial building and a parking lot in downtown Titusville. He rehabbed the property and formed a new company to take on similar projects. Word got out that Woodruff was no longer retired and before long, with the connections he developed throughout his career, he landed a million-dollar Small Business Innovative Research contract to build a ZipperMast for use with ground robotics. This is currently used in nuclear power plants and military operations. Several years later, Woodruff found himself in the right place at the right time when the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Panama City, FL, received funding to replace a motor used to propel military Combat Rubber Raiding Crafts. With his experience working with the military and the federal government, Woodruff knew this was an opportune time to get involved.
"I submitted a Broad Agency Announcement proposal to support that project to build a new multi-fuel outboard engine to replace the Evinrude I-MARS outboard," he said. "We won the $2.5 million contract and got to work building a multi-fuel, air droppable, submersible outboard motor for the military. The first thing we did was partner with another company to build our new motor. Unfortunately, after six months in the contract and the majority of our $2.5 million gone, the vendor had failed, we had nothing to deliver for the contract of four fixed price units. I had to mortgage my business and the house just to stay afloat. After some trial-and-error, which included building a highly technical product and then, based on feedback, reducing the weight and the complexity, we had the motor we wanted."
Raider Outboards quickly outgrew their 3,000 sq. ft building and moved into a 10,000 sq. ft facility located in Titusville's Spaceport Commerce Park. The successful delivery of a light-weight multi-fuel submersible electric start outboard engines led to contracts with the Navy, FBI, NASA, Army Rangers, Seal Teams and, by 2020, the United States Marine Corp.
Woodruff explained, "The Marines needed an outboard motor with protection around the propellers. We came up with the Safety Jet that effectively turns a propeller into a pump jet. The Safety Jet provided protection for military personnel during training exercises preventing injuries that could occur with inadvertent contact with a propeller. We've delivered 40 to the Air Force and will start selling to the Marine Corp next year. This will be our first commercial product offered to the U.S. and international market. It will prevent accidents with swimmers and manatees; excellent for hurricane brown water operations with floating debris.”
Along the way, Woodruff and his team experienced their fair share of challenges including, the delayed shipment of motors, capital constraints, having to significantly reduce the weight of their motor, designing and redesigning several new parts and aggressive deadlines. Nevertheless, they pressed on and produced a product that's far superior to anything currently on the market.
"We're lighter, faster, more efficient and easier to fix than our competitor," Woodruff said. "Our products are submersible and run on any type of fuel. We're also very big on customer service, training and maintenance. If there's a problem with one of our products, our guys fix it right away. We recently were awarded a five-year contract for training and another five-year contract for maintenance. We're extremely proud but also humble about our success."
Raider Outboards started with three employees. They currently have 15, with plans to reach 40 once full production of the Safety Jet gets underway. Woodruff, who loves operating his business from Titusville, described the company culture as family oriented, supportive of our military and as having a collective focus on company goals. Community involvement is also important to Woodruff and his team.
"We love our first responders and our military," he said. "We'll loan boats and motors to the Sheriff's Department and work with them when they do search and rescue training. We plan on building a new boat for them in the near future. We also work with SEAL Teams, FBI SWAT Teams and the Army Rangers. Many times, they come to our facility for training."
What it Means to be a Florida Companies to Watch Honoree
Woodruff shared his thoughts on the honor and what it means to be recognized. "We were pleasantly surprised," he said. "The fact that we're still growing and are able to compete in this industry is exciting. Our employees love to be recognized."
Woodruff added, "None of this would be possible without the hard work of our tremendous team and without the support of the economic development people in Brevard County. They've helped us get in touch with NASA people and have been amazing to work with. They truly go above and beyond to help companies like ours. I'd also like to recognize the small business folks in Titusville. Everyone is more than happy to help. They've been great to work with."
Looking ahead, Woodruff has a set of ambitious goals that fit into a three year plan and a five year plan. He relates the goals to a dart board, with the bullseye representing the company's focus on motors, the next ring is focused on Safety Jet, the next on electric outboards and the final on the production of a search and rescue boat. Along the way, they are currently working towards an ISO 9001 Certification. Expansion of sales of Raider outboard motors will continue, along with sales of outboard motors and Safety Jets to Germany and The Netherlands.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
What advice does Woodruff have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Life is precious," he said. "You only have few days here on this earth and you should be accomplishing what you enjoy. Don't be afraid of failure. If you do fail, get back on the horse and keep going. You also need knowledge of what you're doing. Passion alone is not enough. If you love ice cream, but you've never made it before, you might not want to get into that business."