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Technology emergency? No problem, if you are an OnShore client.

Technology emergency? No problem, if you’re an OnShore client, since most consultants arrive within two hours. Beyond the Chicago-based company’s speedy response time, OnShore offers other client goodies as well, like management, on-demand project work, and a suite of on-site and remote services. Founder Stel Valavanis chats about getting caught, ramping up, and taking on the big guys.

How did the company get started?

At the beginning, the company was me and only me. I was working as a network analyst at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and doing some work on a freelance basis for a few people. The freelance stuff really began to pick up, so I left the university and went full-time on my own.

It’s been great, because I never wanted to be in the corporate world, working for some large company and getting lost. I think that’s why I was working at a university, to avoid the corporate scene. Then I realized that the type of company I wanted to be at was actually something I’d have to build myself.

Why did you choose the name onShore?

When I was going to school at the University of Chicago in the ’80s, I got caught running a wire down the hallway that tapped into the dorm phone, so I could get an Internet connection. At that time, the Internet wasn’t ubiquitous, so you had to find a way on there yourself. After getting caught twice, I finally broke down and ordered a phone for my dorm room.

They gave me a choice of numbers, and before choosing one, I wrote a program that displayed which words could be made from the number. I liked “onshore,” so I picked it, and it stuck with me for years afterward. The next number after onshore was “failure,” by the way. Which would have been funny for a college student, but not for a company.

What kind of directions is the company going to go in the next few years?

I’m a believer in digital convergence. You hear it from everybody, but it seems like there are more and more services that can go over the wire. We’re just finishing up refining our voice services, so that’s a big direction for us, but we’re also looking at other areas that have to do with managed control bandwidth.

We’re approaching a world where the pipe is your connection to the world, and you can buy whatever level of service you want to buy. It’s very exciting.

What kind of challenges is the company facing?

Unfortunately, our challenges are on the ISP side. We’re going head-to-head with the big guys like SBC and Comcast. But we do think we have an angle that has a good number of years ahead of it.

We’ve gone after multi-dwelling units, with our Multi-Tenant Data Network, a distributed Ethernet network designed for buildings all over Chicago. It provides secure, high-speed Internet server and intrabuilding services like firewalls and automated backups.

How do you think this data network will help you compete against the bigger players?

We’ve usually beaten the big guys on quality and price, and we’ve been doing it since day one. Big companies need to go after high volume to make their money, so we don’t challenge them in the general subscriber market.

Instead, we concentrate on markets where we can call the shots. For example, in the buildings we connect, we provide a high level of customer service, including on-site help and advice. It’s very high-touch service, and that’s something the big guys simply can’t do.

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