Robert Duerr, Co-Founder, Executive VP and Principal Consultant of TechCEL LLC, discovered a unique niche for his skills and expertise after a long and successful career with Northrop Grumman. Originally from Cincinnati, OH, Duerr began his career with the global aerospace and defense technology company in 1983. In 1990, he relocated to Melbourne, FL, not long after Northrop Grumman expanded into the Sunshine State. In the early 2000s, Duerr got involved in the export space and grew to manage the technical aspect of export compliance in Melbourne. He went on to oversee technical export activity for the east coast and eventually the entire corporation.
"I officially retired in June 2018 as an Associate Fellow with Northrop Grumman," Duerr said. "For several years I served as Corporate Lead Export Technical Advisor. When I retired, I had 160 engineers reporting to me. Over the two decades I spent in the export arena, I realized that most small to medium sized businesses don't have or can't afford the level of export expertise big aerospace can."
Duerr launched TechCEL in August 2013, initially on a part-time basis, as a way to provide export services to businesses that traditionally lacked the funds to ensure their products were properly classified and properly positioned for international export. As a privately-held woman-owned small business (Duerr's wife is majority owner), TechCEL also works with law firms and universities in understanding and applying export regulations to the components, products, services and data within their organizations. They also work with clients who leverage classification results to streamline their product development, production delivery and data flows, resulting in cost and schedule savings and increased competitive capability.
Duerr provided an example of how his company works with businesses to ensure their export products are successfully introduced to an overseas market. "It usually starts with a customer that has a successful domestic product or service," he said. "At some point, they realize the potential of expanding to an international market. They discover me, usually through word-of-mouth, and I provide them with an assessment to determine the classification of their product. That's step one. We then determine who they can market and sell the product to. We will also work with clients that are early in that cycle and help them know which countries they can sell to."
The U.S. government has a set of export and commerce regulations that companies seeking to do international business must abide by. There's also a list of countries the U.S. allows trade with and a separate list it forbids trade with. According to Duerr, these lists are always changing. This presents a challenging situation for most business owners and represents an area where Duerr can provide substantial value.
"When we export defense related products with preferred countries, they'll get the same or slightly less effective systems as we have," Duerr said. "In order to export to other non-preferred countries, you'll need to, for example, remove certain components from a drone. If you remove a camera or weapon and make the system more benign, you can possibly get a more favorable export license. A lot of the work I do and the value I provide comes down to educating my clients and helping them to understand export classification. I also help to reduce the fears many small businesses have when it comes to exporting their products or services."
Looking ahead, Duerr, through more entrepreneur partnerships and affiliate agreements, is focused on providing a broader array of services for his clients. With a background in business assessment audits, he's able to provide assistance in areas such as process management, acquisition regulations and Department of Defense contracts.
What advice does Duerr have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Provide a clear value proposition in your marketing/proposal," he said. "Also, be patient while clients realize the potential value of engaging with your organization."