Navigating the government business sector is a daunting task to some and an adventure for all. The processes seem labyrinthine and the needs and missions of various agencies are always a bit obscure, unless you have been an insider at some point. And, just where the heck is all that money they are supposed to be giving away?
Well, your observations are, kind of, right on the mark. At least from an outsiders point of view, so let’s just peek behind the curtain a little and get some insight from someone who has been on both sides, me. Now remember, this is a blog post and so it’s short, things do change and these observations are just my opinion, so lets get started.
What’s the mission? Every government agency has a mission and a budget and understandably doesn’t want to spend their dollars on things they won’t get credit for. You need to think a bit about what you are good at and then look for agencies whose job aligns with that. Elementary marketing? Yes, but it is surprising how many people or companies forget that and try to push their potential government customer in a direction they have no reason to go. Maybe they also make that error with a commercial customer. A way to get started here is to search on, for instance, “mission of GSA”. You’ll see results such as Mission of GSA. You will have to drill down into that mega agency of choice, but it’s worth it. At least the internet has made it easier. In the early days you needed a multi-volume set of books and a subscription to keep it up to date.
Where’s the money? That’s a little harder, but with diligence you can find it. Easiest is the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR). They even have a twitter feed. "Each year, Federal agencies with extramural research and development (R&D) budgets that exceed $100 million are required to allocate 2.8 percent of their R&D budget to these programs. Currently, eleven Federal agencies participate in the SBIR program…”. It’s a great place to get started, but don’t expect to just pick a topic and get a grant. There’s more work and preparation required to have a reasonable chance. See who in the agency has sought this kind of work before, seek them out and start some discussions. Do it early since they are not allowed to talk about an open procurement in general.
Another route is through Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps). Again this used to be a paper publication, in 6pt type (Ugh!). There is a lot of stuff there, so learn how to use the search engine.
And last of all, when you see that opportunity that is just tailored for you, an SBIR, Fixed Price Contract, etc., follow the instructions. That’s harder than you may think. Even if you believe you have a better idea, give them what they want. You can almost always offer options. And MEET THE RESPONSE DATE. That means have the proposal in their hands well before the deadline. Something frequently goes wrong and they put the burden on you.
If you want to learn more, visit the Small Business Administration site for 8 tips on finding government business, your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center or attend the October 4 Meeting of the IEEE Boston Entrepreneurs’ Network.
Fausto Molinet is a former USAF acquisitions officer and had 10 years post retirement employment in the defense industry with Litton Itek Optical Systems. He is one of the founders of ENet and consulted to small and large technology companies in strategy for 25 years. He is currently Chief Business Development Officer for Celeriss, Inc. and a member of the ENet Advisory Board.