Meet the up-and-comers of federal IT

The 2015 Washington Technology Fast 50 showcases the rich diversity of the small-business community and highlights some of the fastest-growing companies in the government market.

The success story of No. 1 Fast 50 company n2grate might seem to be an outlier. It’s a five-year-old company that has grown at a 292.57 percent compound annual growth rate since 2010.

The stat is impressive, but the company’s story isn’t significantly different in many ways from the other 49 companies on the 2015 Fast 50.

All are small businesses, and nearly all are led by entrepreneurs and groups of founders who found a particular need in the market.

For n2grate, founders Steve Halligan and Jack Farley took their sales experience and accompanying knowledge of customer needs and started a company focused on helping federal agencies with IT infrastructure solutions, data center services and cloud integration.

Halligan got his start at Anderson Consulting (now Accenture.) “I had the opportunity to really see some of the complexities and mystery around customers transitioning to the cloud,” he said.

2015 is the first year that n2grate qualified for consideration for the Fast 50. The rankings are based on five years of revenue data that companies submit. Companies are then ranked according to their compound annual growth rate. The companies also must be small businesses to qualify.

This year’s rankings showcase the rich diversity of the small business community. Several different kinds of small businesses made the list including 8(a)s, women-owned, service-disabled-veteran-owned, and HUBzone companies. Several companies hold multiple designations.

There also is diversity of capabilities. There are a handful of consulting companies like n2grate, but there is strong representation for IT services and professional services.

The rankings also highlight the staying power of many of the companies on the list. Four of the top 10 companies were also ranked in the top 10 last year. Overall, 21 companies are making a repeat appearance on the list.

While there are many founders leading Fast 50 companies, some are led by their saviors.

Patriot Group International (No. 3) had success early on, but failed to adapt as the market changed. Enter Greg Craddock, a veteran of the Army’s 3rd Ranger Battalion. He and a group of investors acquired the company in 2009.

By this point, PGI had no contracts and no revenue, but it still had a good reputation. “Some of the relationships they started in 2004 helped us get our foot in the door and get in front of the customer,” Craddock said.

The growth skyrocketed from there, hitting 160.99 percent over five years. The growth is a culmination of a “lot of hard work and a little bit of luck,” he said. The company provides counter-intelligence and security support as well as intelligence analysis training.

After such an explosive period of growth, they are focused on managed growth today. “The emphasis should be on smart growth in the areas we perform well in,” he said.

Bob Lohfeld at Sev1Tech (no. 12) understands that philosophy. When he and five of his best friends, including his wife, founded the company, they focused on what he calls the principle of OCD – only competent people.

“Let’s build a really good small business so that when it crosses the $35 million threshold, we’re going to survive and go to $200 million,” he said.

So far, so good. The company is on the cusp of $200 million, so it has survived and has a compound annual growth rate of 113.55 percent over the last five years.

He credits that focus on employees as a key to success. “We want people to be all they can be, because if not, what’s the point of waking up? We hold the bar pretty high,” he said.

The result is that the company has grown well-beyond its data center roots. Lohfeld said he challenges employees to come to him with ideas. “I’ve put the challenge out to everyone in the company and said, if you want to lead, lead,” he said. “Come to me with a plan, I’ll fund it and let’s go build business in something you’re interested in because quite frankly, some of the stuff that you guys are doing, I’m never going to do – I’m a hardcore IT guy,” he said.

With the growth rates that the Fast 50 have sustained over the years, "hardcore" is something nearly all of them would likely relate to.

Join Senior Staff Writer Mark Hoover on August 19 for a webcast highlighting the Fast 50 and trends that they are seeing in the market.