A BUSINESS that started in a spare room has become one of the world’s key companies in a niche area of the marine industry.

Actisense supplies the marine industry with sensors and interfaces – devices which enable data to be transferred between different parts of a boat’s onboard systems.

MD Phil Whitehurst had a track record in marine engineering when he established the business as a consultancy in the late 1990s.

“At first it was three people just doing marine consultancy and we broke out into manufacturing. That’s grown into a much larger company,” he said.

The firm unveiled its first products in 2001. “We started with a small product range, just a couple of products,” said Mr Whitehurst.

Its equipment went down well at the Mets marine show in Amsterdam and the range quickly began expanding.

Actisense, based on the Wessex Trade Centre off Poole’s Ringwood Road, now employs 12 people, as well as outsourcing marketing, PR and production to support its manufacturing. The majority of the outsourcing remains in the UK.

Turnover has grown from £25,000 in that first year to £1.25m last year. Turnover so far this year is 35 per cent up again.

The company now has representation in 26 countries and around 85 per cent of its business is export.

“Because it’s such a niche market, the only chance to really grow large is to sell everywhere,” said Mr Whitehurst.

“We’re looking at the little niches that the bigger manufacturers aren’t meeting.

“It’s an uncontested playing field to some extent. We get them recommending us because we’re not in competition with them. We’re helping them to do what they need to do.”

Operations manager Lesley Keets says a low return rate helped the rapid expansion. “We sell everything with a three-year guarantee because we’re confident in the quality of the product and the return rate is very small,” she said.

Company secretary Michele Whitehurst, Phil’s wife, said: “Business networking has played a role as well. We’ve learned a lot from international business people through trade shows.”

Many of the company’s resources are focused on research and development and on sales and marketing.

The language barriers which can hamper exports are not a problem, because of the representation from distributors and the widespread use of technical English.

The company now finds itself the only business of its kind in Britain. “There are one or two companies worldwide that we overlap with but they don’t do the full range,” said Mr Whitehurst.