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Removing acquisition roadblocks — together

Andrew Chang is managing partner at Eastern Foundry.

The federal government’s procurement pathway is riddled with roadblocks for companies seeking to do business with agencies. The process is beset with bureaucracy and prioritization of long-standing relationships.

That restrictive climate makes it difficult for startup companies to pursue and win contracts, and it is the catalyst for a slow and costly process for prime contractors and agencies to locate new partners. In other words, that route is not the fast track to innovation that the government needs.

Many startups launch with a technology that they know can make our nation safer, more efficient or healthier. Those entrepreneurs pursue government contracts believing that the market’s needs and the ingenuity of their solutions will propel them forward. But they immediately run into 1,800 pages of the Federal Acquisition Regulation and the need to register with the System for Award Management and request a Commercial and Government Entity Code, to name a few.

Many are deterred by those complexities and simply turn away from government contracting.

The companies that are not deterred from pursuing federal contracts still face costly administrative and financial challenges. Washington-based federal business development expert Olessia Smotrova-Taylor said it best: “Companies that believe that they can find an opportunity on FedBizOpps when an RFP comes out, submit a proposal and win the contract are wasting a lot of energy.”

Instead, entrepreneurs are often frustrated when they find themselves directing their efforts toward identifying the correct agencies to target, establishing professional relationships with the right procurement officers and properly positioning their companies to achieve a competitive advantage.

Even when companies are fortunate enough to win a contract, many are not equipped to handle the bureaucracy that permeates every level of government contracting, such as requirements for reports and certifications. Some reach out to their colleagues for guidance.

“I had to talk to others going through the process to learn how to handle it,” said Matthew Stanton, co-founder of energy startup SolePower. “That peer-to-peer advice was invaluable.”

Many companies are not equipped to handle the bureaucracy that permeates every level of government contracting.

Until recently, that protracted procurement process has been the only way. Essentially, the message was: Play by the rules or go home. But with the appointment of Secretary Ashton Carter, the Defense Department’s plans to engage Silicon Valley, particularly with regard to cybersecurity, are poised to evolve.

Technology incubators and accelerators along the Eastern Seaboard are providing entrepreneurs with the knowledge and network to get started. Those initiatives all have a common objective of identifying a more collaborative approach to procurement that, when successful, will save agencies time and money and enable entrepreneurs to bring their technologies to bear.

For an example, I’ll point to Worden Technology Solutions, a contractor that specializes in streamlining IT services. Worden has won several contracts, including one for the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, and owner Chris Worden believes in the power of collaboration in the government contracting space.

“Instead of slogging along alone and becoming bitter, you have other companies around you to network with and take advantage of those relationships,” he said. “It’s a game-changer.”

Cases like Worden’s attest to the idea that it is time to apply a more collaborative approach to government contracting.

Even successful contractors face roadblocks that include protracted payment cycles (leading to cash flow issues) after winning contracts, but helping them get to the door is a start. With collaboration, entrepreneurs and agencies could achieve a more accelerated innovation pace to keep our nation on the cutting edge of progress.

About the Author

Andrew Chang is the managing partner at Eastern Foundry, a first-of-its-kind marketplace where technologists, government contractors and agencies convene to exchange information, discuss opportunities and conduct business.

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