Expression Networks takes top spot on 2018 Fast 50

Expression Networks has leveraged its ability to turn around troubled projects and develop an extraordinary record of success.

The government market appears back in vogue again for businesses of all shapes and sizes thanks to renewed budget growth after years of downturn and a renewed focus on technology investments.

One small business in particular has ridden that wave of optimism: Washington, D.C.-based Expression Networks. Founded in 1997, the company focuses on spectrum engineering and automation technology services, among other areas, and has used that platform to quickly scale up in line with defense IT modernization efforts.

Just look at where Expression Networks finished on Washington Technology’s 2018 Fast 50 list of the fastest-growing small business government contractors. Not on last year’s list, the company takes the top spot on this year’s edition with an 803.57-percent compound annual growth rate for the 2013-2017 period.

For 2017 alone, the company posted 54.5-percent year-over-year sales growth to $6.8 million after a string of contract wins after contract wins, including a key recompete secured with one of its largest customers to lay a foundation for more expansion.

“We go into programs that haven’t been doing well and turn them around with software development using a lot of open source platforms that cost the government a whole lot less money than they were paying,” said David Romola, chief operating officer at Expression Networks.

A broad look at Expression Networks’ customer base shows a diverse mix across the defense, civilian and law enforcement communities. The company’s website lists as clients the Army and Navy, plus the departments of State and Justice. Others include the Defense Information Systems Agency, Defense Logistics Agency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Customs and Border Protection.

“Some of our clients migrate to other places as they do in the government, they like the work we do and reach back out to us,” Romola said of the company’s growth across customers. “We don’t do a lot of heavy advertising but we’re running full-throttle with all our staff. We don’t have anyone on the bench.”

Expression Networks reported 58 employees -- many of them software development and electrical engineers in its submission to be nominated as a 2018 Fast 50 company. Romola said the company is pushing to hire more technical talent in dashboard analytics and workflow support services as it adds more contracts with the Defense Department.

And it’s on a program with DISA where Expression Networks has been able to project growth out of. Last year, the company won a new potential $19.5 million task order to continue its role on DISA’s Joint Spectrum Data Repository program. The company first won the work in 2014.

DISA envisions JSDR as a unified view to analyze all spectrum data for the U.S. military and its partners. The company was tasked to develop the second iteration of JSDR to help in spectrum management and planning, along with electronic warfare.

“When the DOD goes anywhere, they can look and see if something can be jammed or not jammed, what’s in the different areas and what they might have to do to get signal strength better,” Romola said. “They can do frequency evaluations on that data.”

It is one thing to have the customer relationships as a growth foundation and another to have large business teammates alongside them. Expression Networks is minority partner with majority owner AECOM in a joint venture that is a prime on DISA’s potential $17.5 billion Encore III IT services contract awarded late last year.

Romola said the company also works with Deloitte and ECS Federal. “It gives us credibility to bring them on the team as well, they help us with work for reach-back capability when we need it,” he added.

Public optimism on the state of the market expressed by large contractors in particular also extends to the small business community, including Expression Networks. Romola identified cloud migration, cybersecurity and blockchain are areas of opportunity for small businesses to gain more of a foothold.

Along with increases in contract work done by small firms, ne item Romola wants to see increased mentoring of them by larger firms.

After all, “eventually the small businesses become larger businesses,” he said.