Silicon Valley firms test fed waters

A coalition of five start-up companies from Silicon Valley is seeking help from Washington, D.C., insiders about marketing products to government information technology decision-makers.

Although the idea isn't new, the executives of these companies are trying to create a road map to learn about Washington politics and, in turn, allow federal officials to get to know them, said Stuart Robbins, executive director of the CIO Collective, a nonprofit group of senior IT executives.

"The start-up community does not have the capability to spend time really getting to know the federal sector," Robbins said. "Take any one of the emerging technology companies. There is an urgency in Washington to learn more about them quickly and a heightened interest from start-ups."

With the federal government poised to spend nearly $60 billion in fiscal 2005 on IT and with a frequent call for new and more efficient technologies, especially for homeland security, government remains at the center of the business world for new companies that want to grow.

But the idea of coming to town without a game plan is daunting for many of these fledgling companies, according to Robbins.

"The idea is to bring ecosystems of start-ups together and [to educate] the Washington market that you don't have to depend on [Hewlett-Packard Development Co. for information about] what's new and cool," Robbins said.

Enter Robbins and his CIO Collective. He arranged a recent dinner in the nation's capital with a number of Washington IT insiders to build relationships and talk tech. The group included Alan Balutis, president of Veridyne Inc., Paul Brubaker, chief marketing officer of SI International, and Dan Chenok, a vice president for SRA International Inc.

With dozens of years of federal experience under their collective belts, these IT executives have the knowledge to advise small start-ups about how to gain a foothold in the government market.

"These companies are small enough to be agile and respond," Balutis said. "They don't come in with a preordained culture."

Topics at the dinner included how to use government contracting vehicles and, more importantly, how to get on them and create partnerships.

"The challenge is getting in and getting business," Balutis said.

Starting from zero, Balutis said, the companies have a lot to learn — everything from how to get attention as a minority- or woman-owned business to exactly what the General Services Administration schedule is.

"These companies don't have a lot of money to put into industry associations or business development," Balutis said.

They don't have a lot of time, either, because they constantly endure pressure to find venture capital that will keep their companies operating, he said.

The companies are Bridgestream Inc., Certive Corp., Encentuate Inc., ITM Software Corp. and Saama Technologies Inc.

There is a longer learning curve for start-up companies trying to enter the federal market, said Juanita Lott, founder and CEO of Bridgestream, an Oakland, Calif., firm that is 4 years old.

"There is a process involved that you really do need to understand and take advantage of," Lott said. "For a young tech company, understanding the ways you get in front of the right people is a major issue for us."

The CIO Collective will meet again in April in California. The Washington, D.C., contacts are hoping to set up meetings with government officials and others in the industry to help teach the executives how to handle federal contracts.

"No one is making a great deal of money on this right now," Robbins said.

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Starting up

Five young Silicon Valley companies are working with Washington, D.C., insiders to gain a foothold in the federal information technology marketplace.

The companies and technology offerings are:

Bridgestream Inc. — Security authorization management.

Certive Corp. — Automated data integration and management solutions.

Encentuate Inc. — Identity management solutions.

ITM Software Corp. — Portfolio management software.

Saama Technologies Inc. — Systems integration and business intelligence services.

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