On Tuesday, March 9th, INSA hosted a panel event to discuss opportunities for 8(a) certified businesses in federal contracting. Moderated by INSA's Acquisition Management Council Chair, Howard Weitzner, the panelists offered diverse public and private sector perspectives and salient advice to small businesses looking to enter into or grow within the 8(a) program.
Dale Rainey, Director of the Office of Small Business Programs at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), opened the discussion by addressing how the 8(a) program helps teach and train small businesses to do business with the government. Karen Mumford, Director of the Small Business Program Office at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), added that becoming 8(a) certified would allow a small business to engage in one of the most straightforward and streamlined processes to secure a government contract.
Offering a different perspective, Dr. James DeBardelaben, President and CEO of IvySys Technologies, a graduate of the 8(a) program, noted that while the program provides many benefits, small companies must still develop niche capabilities that will attract talent and differentiate their small businesses in competition for government contractors.
Both Dr. DeBardelaben and Christian González, CEO and Co-Founder of Wovenware, an 8(a) certified company, discussed the importance of timing and determining the right time for your small business to enter the 8(a) program. Noting that the program is a vehicle for government contracting officers to access small businesses more efficiently, both panelists highlighted that small business must synchronize capabilities, experience, and entrance into the program to fully leverage the benefits of an 8(a) certification.
Dale Rainey and Karen Mumford also launched into a discussion about how NGA and DIA, respectively, conduct outreach to 8(a) small businesses. Mr. Rainey highlighted NGA's demo day, in which the organization invites companies to present their capabilities to acquisition leads. Mr. Rainey noted that this allows 8(a) certified small businesses direct access to NGA offices that will reach out should they have a contracting need. Similarly, Karen Mumford discussed DIA's virtual events connecting 8(a) certified businesses with the organization, sharing that DIA usually has between ten to twelve new 8(a) small businesses contracting with the agency each year.
Offering advice to small businesses, Mr. González discussed some of the various avenues to contracting with the government. Noting that it is sometimes easier for small businesses to align capabilities with a prime contractor, Mr. González highlighted that working alongside a prime can allow small businesses greater access to understanding the IC's problems and needs. Dr. DeBardelaben took it even further adding that it's likely the customer will be a prime given that it is often difficult for small businesses to gain access to government contacts. Dr. DeBardelaben made clear that working with prime contractors allows small companies to find where they can add value and facilitate effective partnerships.
To close, Ms. Mumford underscored the importance of knowing your core capabilities, your customers' needs, and, most importantly, knowing what you want as a small business before entering the 8(a) program. Mr. Rainey continued by emphasizing the importance of timing and stated that a small business should make the 8(a) program their priority should they enter the program.
Dr. DeBardelaben discussed the importance of relationship-building in the 8(a) program, as well as the necessity of knowing where your services may align with government needs. Mr. Gonzalez added that research and figuring out ways your small business can solve identified problems is critical. Mr. Gonzalez also reminded the panel that although the program, in effect, limits competition, there is still significant competition within the 8(a) program and it's important to know what sets your company apart from its competitors.
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