Domain expertise equals success

Sentek Consulting Inc., an 8(a)
small, disadvantaged business
and a California-certified disabled
veteran-owned business, ranks No.
33 on the 2008 Fast 50, having racked
up $4.1 million in government contracts
in 2007. That's a 78.91 percent increase
in five years.

"The meat of Sentek's work is services
to the Navy's space and warfare organization
in San Diego," said retired Rear
Adm. Hamlin Tallent, partner and vice
president of C4ISR systems at Sentek.

"If you're going to do technical work,
at some point you need to have a feel for
and a very good appreciation of exactly
what [the work] is intended to do and whom this particular piece of technology
is supposed to be assisting," he said.

Therefore, the San Diego company's
management team includes
retired senior military and
government officials with
decades of experience in
information technology
architecture, command and
control systems, counterterrorism,
special operations
and military infrastructure.

Like many small companies, Sentek
has grown by partnering with larger
contractors and among them Booz Allen
Hamilton Inc. is its major partner. Since
Tallent joined the company in 2005,
Sentek has grown from 17 employees to
almost 50.

"The company did not get its own
[prime] contract until last year, when
we won a $20 million contract," Tallent
said. Under the award, Sentek examines
classified program documents for the
Navy and certifies that they have the
correct security safeguards. The company
plans to use that expertise to pursue
similar certification work for other
branches of the military, he added.

Sentek is succeeding despite a good
deal of local competition. "It's
a crowded space," Tallent
said, because "anyone who
has a fax machine can call
himself a C4I company." So
Sentek is looking for new
markets far beyond San
Diego.

Tallent has created an international
division primarily to win work
in the Philippines and west Africa. "The
things that are valuable to resource
management in the U.S. of course would
be valuable and are valuable to developing
countries," he said.

The retired Navy flag officer said he
would advise newcomers to the government
market "to have the courage to go
after your vision." For example, "to go to
Africa from San Diego is a 32-hour
plane ride, and you're not the same guy
getting off [the plane] that you were
getting on it, believe me."

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