Alabama Startup Profiles

Fight Pirates, Make Money

PirateShip Fight Pirates, Make MoneyMany Americans were incensed in 2009 when Somali pirates hijacked the cargo ship Maersk Alabama; an incident that was the basis for the Tom Hanks’ thriller, “Captain Phillips.” One of them was Jonathan McConnell, a former U.S. Marine who had served as an officer in Iraq.

McConnell’s hometown of Mobile, Alabama has a large port. He learned from friends in the shipping business that cargo ships were “sitting ducks” when attacked. A crew’s only form of defense was dropping heavy metal chains when pirates attempted to board a ship. McConnell sensed an opportunity to provide well-trained armed guards to shipping lines. Soon his startup – Meridian Global Consulting LLC – was born.

McConnell took to heart the words of George S. Patton, a legendary World War II general: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” McConnell expected competitors to emerge before long. He launched his startup immediately rather than trying to devise a perfect business plan. While many startups struggle to find the right people, the Marines that McConnell had fought alongside in Iraq were a ready-made workforce.

After McConnell pioneered the maritime security industry, others soon followed in his footsteps. Today, roughly 27,000 vessels a year pass nearby Somalia. Thanks to Meridian Global Consulting and other companies, 85% of these voyages have armed security and less than 1.5% are attacked by pirates.

McConnell’s advises entrepreneurs to “act, don’t talk” because many opportunities are fleeting. As a business graduate of Auburn University, he stresses the need for entrepreneurs to find excellent mentors and to maintain high integrity in all of their business dealings.

Looking to the future, McConnell believes that many of the best opportunities for entrepreneurs will be in cybersecurity; an area that tech visionaries such as John McAfee are exploring.