Marketing to and closing contracts with the federal government is often the most arduous marketing and sales activity a company can undertake. With it’s complex contracting procedures, elongated award schedules, the multitude of variables effecting the process and unreliable support from the customer base, the government has never made it easy for small and medium size companies to make the investment in working within the federal sector. Because of this, I am frequently asked how I got into the business of supporting startups and growth-stage tech companies in undertaking this significant endeavor? The answer is simple, having come from a technology startup, and as an Army veteran, I know not only the frustrations of government contracting, but the cost of not having the best technology available. So to put it bluntly, it came natural to me.
Prior to co-founding Eastern Foundry, I served as the lead intelligence and product analyst at Endgame, where I worked on cybersecurity analytics for the defense and intelligence sector. I was an early employee, drawn to the excitement of working for a venture backed “startup” of sorts that provided cybersecurity products to the consumer and government markets. It was here that I learned first hand how difficult it is for a startup to work with government let alone win contracts. As an Army veteran having served as a military intelligence officer, I was constantly under pressure to provide the most accurate and actionable intelligence possible for my commanders. Many times this meant doing more with less, because the contracting procedures made it too hard to us to get access to the best technology available. To this day, I am an active company commander in the Army National Guard, and I feel duty bound to do everything I can to ensure that my troops and others around the world, never have to be asked to perform the task of defending our nation using antiquated gear. To make sense of it all: We are fighting 21st century adversaries, (who are agile, well funded and aren’t burdened by the bureaucracies of nation states) using a 20th century acquisition system.
I co-founded Eastern Foundry because I believe that it is imperative that the federal government moves out of it’s own way, and allows for the most groundbreaking technology to be placed into the hands of those who need it most. While I have become accustomed to doing business in this environment, many are not as well versed in the obstacles that can hinder a company's move into the federal government market space.
First, there’s the bureaucracy of it all. There are several layers that every sector of the government must go through if it is interested in adopting new technology. A typical story I hear is that government employees do not want to be the first to suggest a new technology, because, if it doesn’t work out, they get fired. As a result, the government thrives on maintaining the status quo, even if it means adding risk and increasing the likelihood of servicemen paying the ultimate cost.
While “innovation” is a word everyone in government uses a lot, it doesn’t actually appear to put any into practice. For example, since Megan Smith was named the first U.S. CTO in 2014, she has been campaigning for tech startups to play a part in how the government functions. Unfortunately, it seems, she is playing the role of a politician and promising things she cannot deliver. While certainly correct that innovative technology would be of benefit to the government, the bureaucracy and outdated procurement process prevents such adoption from happening.
The process that any company must go through to win a government contract is a lengthy one. In truth, it can be slow and painful. For reference, whereas the typical B2B sales cycle is 3-6 months, the government contracting process can last up to 2 years. In many situations, startups and early growth companies simply can’t afford to wait that long to close a deal. Because of this timeframe, among other factors, lot of startups and growth-stage tech companies shy away from doing business with the government. However, if it is approached the right way, government contracts can be very a lucrative return on investment. After all, the U.S. government is the largest spender in the world.
In order for the government to adopt innovative ideas and advanced technology, and for startups to actually want to pursue business with the government, the procurement process must change. Government employees and representatives, such as Smith, need to stop preaching and start practicing. The risk of not doing so is simple: the government of the most powerful nation in the world stands to miss out on the greatest innovations of a generation.
At Eastern Foundry, our goal is to help startups and small businesses break into the government market and make the procurement process easier. We provide a space for these companies that need to be in the nation’s capital, but can’t afford the rent of a D.C. office. All 55 companies in our accelerator are government focused, and they all have the same goal: land a government contract with their technology product.