USAMRMC Conference Draws Small Businesses Looking for Big Contracts
Business isn't for the faint of heart. No one knows this better than the small business owner, who must shepherd a company through the early entrepreneurial days of sweat equity to build a brand and experience sustainable growth. The challenges are myriad, and the turbulent economy, with its seismic shifts and mercurial markets, has required an extra measure of adaptability and resilience. Networking has become an increasingly critical tool for small business owners seeking an edge. It's no surprise, then, that some 220 attendees and 40 exhibitors participated in the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's Advanced Planning Briefing for Industry and Small Business Conference, eager to hear leaders detail their subcommands and highlight contracting opportunities. Their hope was to turn a stack of business cards into profitable contracts.
Jerome Maultsby, organizer of the inaugural April 26 conference and associate director of the Office of Small Business Programs, USAMRMC, said, "Our goal was to help those business firms interested in competing for federal procurements to become better acquainted with our mission requirements from the various offices, while gaining a better sense of what's on the horizon in terms of current and future procurements."
The OSBP forges business-government alliances and better equips small businesses to compete for procurements. The office supports firms that provide relevant products, services and solutions for research, acquisition, logistics and technology that benefit the nation's warfighter. Army small business spending has increased 55% from $18 billion in 2005 to $28 billion in 2010. According to the Small Business Administration, in 2009 small businesses were awarded a record 21.9% of federal contract dollars, approximately $97 billion -- a figure federal agencies plan to increase in coming years.
USAMRMC, the Army's medical materiel developer, is responsible for medical research, development, and acquisition and medical logistics management. As such it is a major contributor to the overall Army Small Business Program, with 24% of its $2 billion budget going to its affiliated contractors. The U.S. Army Medical Command alone spends about half of its budget on small firms. USAMRMC is committed to increasing both the percentage and overall procurement dollars awarded to small businesses.
Fort Detrick is already the economic engine for area companies, in 2009 alone providing $2 billion in contracts -- $600 million to Maryland companies, $55 million locally. Small businesses are the beneficiaries of much of this spending.
Winning a coveted contract can be a complex, sometimes bewildering process. The competition for government procurements can be daunting. The goal of the conference was to help demystify the process. The conference drew local and regional prime and subcontractors, as well as seasoned and novice business firms. The day's itinerary centered on 20-minute project overviews from USAMRMC program managers and commanders, who went over the multifaceted program requirements with attendees.
Maj. Gen. James Gilman, USAMRMC Commanding General, urged attendees to put their best foot forward. "This conference is all about fostering competition," he explained. "When you compete for our business, we win. And you win, too, because you develop a better business."
Christine Demas, director of the Fort Detrick Business Development Office, encouraged prospective contractors to work closely with FDBDO as they develop their proposals. "We want you to be able to come to the table with everyone else and compete," she said. FDBDO has advised hundreds of companies, small and large, on all facets of doing business with Fort Detrick. "We offer training, from programs on federal contracting for beginners to teaming," explained Demas. "We moved this year to webinars. You don't even have to come to our office; you can attend our class from your desk over lunch."
Col. Russell Coleman, commander of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, emphasized the importance of niche businesses: "The government does not build a single thing. We do it by relying on the commercial world, the business world, what all of you do. The challenge is making the right connection. You've got to try to make that best match, and you have to do a good job selling what you have to offer."
The conference provided exhibitors Sheila and Dave Lucas, co-owners of Convergent Solution, such an opportunity. The 11-year-old Lakewood, Colo., company sells an array of simulation software for interactive training in various topics, from medical to mining safety.
"I've been trying to network into USUHS [Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences] since last June," said Sheila Lucas. "Col. Robinson came over early in the morning, looked at our Cyber-Anatomy system and said, 'Here's the name of a key decision maker at the SimCenter [National Capital Area Medical Simulation Center].'"
A hopeful smile spread across Lucas' face. "All we need are a few good contacts. All we need is to connect with a few key decision makers."
Richard Smerbeck, Business Acceleration Manager for Dawnbreaker, a 20-year-old Rochester, N.Y., company that provides commercialization assistance to small, high-technology businesses, was pleased with the high rank and level of the presenters. "It isn't often you have the opportunity to meet so many decision makers in one place," says Smerbeck. "I was even more impressed by the approachability of the presenters. I wish more meetings were structured like this one."
Smerbeck, an old hand at the procurement process, counseled newcomers to contracting to stay the course.
"Persistence and patience are very important, especially when you are starting out," said Smerbeck. "You need to get your name and your services in front of purchasers and decision makers. Take the time to learn from others who are successful in gaining contracts. There is a lot of assistance available. Submit white papers, respond to RFIs and RFPs. Always request a debrief on any proposal -- successful or unsuccessful. Your diligence will pay off."