When a naval ship is at sea, dozens of critical electronic systems onboard need to operate perfectly, or missions and lives could be in jeopardy. Those systems require consistent power to operate, but the power provided by the ship’s generators is often unreliable.

That’s where NOVA Power Solutions, Inc. comes in. The Loudoun County company manufactures power conditioning systems and backup batteries for ships, oil rigs, satellite ground stations, specialty vehicles, and other clients that require a clean, predictable power supply in locations far from the electrical grid. 

Unlike the steady wave of electricity that comes into the homes and offices of American cities, the power supply in remote destinations is “far from ideal,” said NOVA Power Solutions President and CEO Steve Ziff.

NOVA Power Solutions, Inc., Loudoun County

NOVA Power Solutions, Inc., Loudoun County

“The beautiful thing for us is we can accept anything as input,” Ziff said. “It can be solar, it can be wind, it can be nuclear, it can be diesel — it can be anything, because we’re going to take that and apply our technology to make sure it gets to be whatever that end system needs.”

NOVA Power was started 35 years ago by a veteran who saw the need for military operations to maintain a stable power supply even when off-grid. For nearly the first three decades of its existence, the company faced extreme challenges selling its products directly to international markets because of U.S. State Department export control definitions for weapons systems. 

“We were making arguments for many years that our product is not a weapon and should not be regulated as such,” Ziff said. “Our product is a piece of electronics that can support weapons systems but, on its own, it is not a weapon,” and should thus fall under normal U.S. Commerce Department regulation.

Nevertheless, under government regulations of the time, NOVA Power’s systems were not differentiated from the weapons systems they helped power. That didn’t mean they weren’t in use in international markets. But they were being slipped in through the back door, anonymously.

There’s no question that what VEDP provides to help drive international business for Virginia companies is the gold standard.

Steve Ziff President and CEO, NOVA Power Solutions, Inc.

For instance, a U.S. defense contractor might sell a radar system to an ally in Europe. “We would work with the contractor to understand the technical needs and would build and supply them our systems, but we would have no insight into who the ultimate end user would be,” Ziff said. Often, the system would end up with a foreign military.

Later, NOVA Power might discover that its products had landed in that country by receiving calls from that country looking for technical support or to purchase additional products. 

“Did we sell it to them originally? No, our products made their way there,” Ziff said. “We couldn’t proactively go after any foreign markets because of the controls in place.”

Then, a decade ago, the State Department changed its policies. NOVA Power’s products were no longer classified as weapons. Suddenly, the company could expand its business abroad. But what was the best way to go about it?

One of the company’s salesmen had an idea: Turkey. It had a fast-growing economy, a large naval presence, plans to build lots of ships and, as Ziff put it, “no competition in the country for what we do.” Best of all, Turkey wanted to export its military technology to other countries, so if NOVA Power could become a trusted contractor, “they would be doing all the work to export their products and we could go along for the ride,” Ziff said. 

NOVA Power turned to VEDP for assistance with engagement in the country. The company also entered VEDP’s two-year Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) program, which assists Virginia exporters with established domestic operations that are committed to international exporting as a growth strategy. 

Soon, the company brought on a retired Turkish Naval officer who was not only well versed on the technology, but highly connected in his home country. That, combined with a detailed plan for tactics and expectations, yielded impressive results. 

Ten years later, Turkey is NOVA Power’s largest international market, and still growing. “It’s a great success story,” Ziff said. “I wish I could repeat it over and over again.” 

Today, as NOVA Power continues to explore new international markets, nearly a quarter of the company’s annual revenue comes from international sales, and that number continues to increase, Ziff said. Throughout it all, VEDP has played a critical role.

“The resources it’s provided have been invaluable,” Ziff said. NOVA Power executives often join VEDP trade missions to foreign countries, where VEDP staff will arrange meetings with relevant people in their industry. The company has participated in the Global Defense Program, which offers eligible companies assistance with strategy, export compliance, matchmaking, and translation, as well as targeted market research services. And NOVA Power is also a participant in VEDP’s Trade Show Program, which provides companies with up to $10,000 per year to participate in international trade show exhibitions. 

But the help doesn’t end there, Ziff said. For instance, NOVA Power wanted to participate in an Australian defense trade show this fall. Setting up its own booth could have cost as much as $20,000. Instead, NOVA Power will have a section of the VEDP booth for a fraction of the cost, he said.

Plus, had NOVA Power hosted a solo booth, potential customers might have passed by because they didn’t know anything about the company, Ziff said. In contrast, “Everyone knows the state of Virginia. They do a lot of the marketing for us.”

NOVA Power does business in other states, but Ziff observed he’s never seen anything else that compares to what VEDP offers. “There’s no question that what VEDP provides to help drive international business for Virginia companies is the gold standard.” 

In addition to Australia, the company is in various stages of entering the market or preparing to do so in Canada, Japan, Poland, Romania, and several others, Ziff said.

“We’ve gotten through the door, and now we’re trying to really pitch our tent and establish ourselves in a bigger way, because they all still need what we have.” 

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