2007 Small Business Report | It's not just about speed

Companies making the 2007 Fast 50 follow many paths to success in the government market

Small business e-seminar

Associate Editor Michael Hardy will host an e-seminar Sept. 24 featuring Arthur Collins, director of the Small Business Administration's Office of Government Contracting. Collins will make a presentation on small-business contracting opportunities and answer questions. For more information, go to www.washingtontechnology.com.

Enhanced databases

The Fast 50 and the Top 25 8(a) lists are available online. The Web versions allow you to sort companies by revenue, rank and business category.

You'll also find profiles with information on company executives, lines of business, and major contracts and customers.

For more, go to www.washingtontechnology.com.

Tips for mentor/protégé success

These pointers come from mentors, protégés and small-business experts and can guide small companies to successful partnerships with mentors.

The mentor/protégé relationship is about learning, not getting subcontracts. If you end up with some business in the bargain, count it as a bonus.

Choose one goal to accomplish, such as setting up accounting processes that will pass federal muster or earning a CMMI rating.

Be prepared to invest time and money. Count it as a short-term expense in exchange for a long-term gain.

Take your mentor's guidance seriously. It's been successful in federal contracting and knows the business.

Companies you've worked with in the past often make good mentors because there is already an established relationship to build on.

The companies on the 2007 Fast 50
exhibit as many differences as similarities.

From the No. 1 company with a compound
annual growth rate of 135.5 percent
from 2002 through 2006 to No. 50 with
40.2 percent, the companies making this
year's list have in common a stellar track
record for growth in the federal market.

But how they achieved that growth
exemplifies the many different ways companies
can achieve success in the government
market. One company
sought out the government market
after its first-choice market
collapsed. Other companies have
founders who left government
service and parlayed that experience
into private-sector success.
And still others were founded by people
who left larger companies to launch their

To be considered, companies submitted
five years of revenue data, and we ranked
them by their compound annual growth

Whatever their roots, the 2007 Fast 50
offer lessons for those already in the market
and those looking to join.

Oberon Associates Inc., a company
owned by a woman veteran and a servicedisabled
veteran, provides information
technology services to the intelligence community
and government agencies. It tops
the 2007 Washington Technology Fast 50

Veterans David Young and Jodi Johnson
founded the Manassas, Va., company in
2002. It has since grown to 400 employees
and reported $48.4 million in government
revenue in 2006, for a compound annual
growth rate of more than 135 percent.
When the pair launched Oberon, they
had little money and no customers. They
did have experience in federal contracting
and the acquisition process.

"We spent the first six months
building the infrastructure,"
Johnson said, and they got a
small line of credit in 2003
from Acacia Federal Bank.
"Today we have a $7.7 million
line of credit with them."

The first win came in September 2002,
when the Office of the Secretary of
Defense offered Oberon an IT services
and communications contract that was
being managed by Science Applications
International Corp.

Oberon ? named for a moon of Uranus
? has not slowed since. Johnson said she
expects the company's government revenue
will be almost $90 million this year, due in
part to six contract wins in June.
One of them ? the Defense Network
Management Support Services Global contract
from the Defense Information
Systems Agency ? is perhaps Oberon's
most important recent award, she said.

"What's most exciting for us ... is [that] it's
our first prime contract with DISA."

The indefinite-delivery, indefinitequantity
contract could be worth as much
as $86 million over five years.

Oberon partnered with SAIC to provide
communications support for U.S.
Ambassador Paul Bremer during his yearlong
assignment in Iraq. Johnson said the
San Diego-based contractor has been a key
asset in Oberon's success.

The company is also working with SAIC
on biometrics projects for the Defense
Department. "We have designed and developed
the Biometrics Automated Toolset,"
Johnson said, which is used to identify and
track suspected insurgents arrested in Iraq
and Afghanistan.

In addition to biometrics applications
and integration, Oberon's core competencies
are intelligence support, communications
engineering and enterprise data management,
the company's newest area of

"I think we will continue to enjoy significant
growth," Johnson said. "Obviously,
doubling in size will get harder and harder
to do as we continue to grow."

Despite the demands of the job, Johnson
still manages to find time to attend most of
her three sons' soccer games, a feat she is as
proud of as Oberon's success.

2020 Company LLC, which provides
professional services to civilian agencies, opened for business in Chicago in 2000
with an enterprise resource planning contract
from the city. One year later, it won its
first federal contract from the Army
National Guard.

A totally self-financed company, 2020
ranks No. 9 on the 2007 Fast 50 list, having
recorded $9.5 million in government
revenue in 2006 for an 89.9 percent compound
annual growth rate from 2002
through 2006.

In 2001, with guidance from the Military
Personnel Services Corp., the company won
a GSA Schedule 70 contract and secured an
8(a) designation. As a result, 2020 remains
close to its mentor.

"They're a sub to us now, actually," said
Haresh Bhungalia, co-founder and chief
operating officer at 2020.

The company ? which had grown to 45
employees ? moved to Falls Church, Va., in
2004 but retained a presence in Chicago.

"Today we're past the 170 [employee]
mark," he said. "And we're on target to do
upwards of $20 million in revenue this

2020's major clients are the Education
and Commerce departments and the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration. The company has smaller
contracts with the Agriculture and Energy

The vagaries of the federal market the
past few years have not affected 2020,
Bhungalia said. "We've actually grown as
an organization through that time period. I
don't know that the market has changed so
much as we have a better idea of what it is
that we want to focus on."

Bhungalia estimated that 2020 is now
the prime contractor on as much as 75 percent
of its government work.

"We partner where appropriate with the
companies that we need to," he said, citing
Accenture Ltd. and Booz Allen Hamilton
Inc. as partners.

2020 is one of several contractors working
with Northrop Grumman Corp. on a
recently awarded $90 million contract
from the Centers for Medicare and
Medicaid Services, in Baltimore, to provide
database and data administration services.
Bhungalia said USDA farming grants
and federal student loan administration for
Education will be important parts of 2020's
business by 2012. But the lion's share will
come from health care IT. "I feel very confident
going forward that we'll be able to
bring a strong value proposition to that
arena," he said.

The founders of Ambit Group LLC credit
the company's rapid growth to a name
change in 2004 and a new business plan
focused exclusively on the government
marketplace. "That was a sea change," said
John Condon, chief executive officer and
co-founder of the company. "Ever since
then, we've been on a really nice growth

Ambit ranks No. 10 on the 2007 Fast 50,
with $3.7 million in government revenue in
2006 for an 89.6 percent compound annual
growth rate.

The woman-owned, service-disabled
veteran-owned small consulting company
has grown from about 10 employees in
2002 to almost 50 in 2007. "And we'll
probably [have] about 70 to 75 by the end
of this calendar year," Condon said.

The Reston, Va., company recently won a
five-year, $22 million prime contract from
the Federal Communications Commission
to provide database infrastructure, analysis
and Web support.

"Overnight, we added 12 people to our
staff," he said, "and since that contract
kicked off, we've added another five."
Condon said he expects Ambit to record
$5.5 million to $6 million in revenue in
2007. "And we're very confident ? particularly
with this new [FCC] win ? that we'll
do around $11 million next year."

Kim Shackleford, Ambit's president and
co-founder, said the company is now the
prime contractor on 85 percent to 90 percent
of its work. "Actually, with this win, we
move closer to 95 percent."

Other government clients include the
Small Business Administration, Environmental
Protection Agency, USDA and

Steve Ikirt and his wife, Debbie, started
Information Innovators Inc. in 2001 in the
belief that his 20-year Army career and her
government sales experience would give
them a good chance at success.

So they bankrolled the company and
entered into subcontracting partnerships
with a number of companies, including
Hewlett-Packard Co.

In the first year, the Springfield, Va.,
company grew to about eight employees.

"As the years went on, we grew from eight
to 10, then to 21 and then to 45, and [we
got] additional contracts," said Ikirt, a
service-disabled veteran.

The small business provides project
management, security and information
assurance, systems design and integration,
and enterprise architecture support. Its
clients include the Defense Logistics
Agency and DISA.

Innovators has about
120 employees and
ranks No. 15 on the
Fast 50 list. The
company recorded
$20.4 million in
government revenue
in 2006 for a 78.9
percent compound
annual growth rate.

"This year, we'll
probably do about
$25 million to
$30 million," Ikirt
said. "We'll probably
be somewhere
between $50 million
and $70 million by
2010, and that's

During the past three years, the company
has concentrated on solidifying its infrastructure
? getting government certifications
and top-secret clearances, building an
experienced workforce and reducing
turnover, and securing a presence on governmentwide
acquisition contracts. That
has helped Information Innovators go after
government work as the prime contractor,
he said.

Six months ago, the company was one of
about 42 veteran-owned businesses awarded
spots as prime contractors on the
General Services Administration's Veterans
Technology Services GWAC. "It's a huge
deal," he said. "That has really made a big
difference in this company."

Information Innovators recently completed
a program management and integration
contract to relocate the Transportation
Department to new facilities. The
move involved 5,800 employees, 6,000
miles of cable, 800-plus servers, and the
construction of two data centers and a crisis
management center, Ikirt said.

"Those kinds of things over the past
three years have really given us relationship
credibility," he said, and have led to partnerships
with SAIC, IBM Corp., HP and
CACI International Inc.

When four former industry consultants
formed Guident Technologies Inc. in 1996,
their plan was to provide business intelligence
and Oracle solutions to telecommunications
and dot-com companies in the
Washington area. They had no thought of
entering the government market.

Last year, Guident of Herndon, Va.,
recorded $7.3 million in government revenue,
for a 74.5 percent compound annual
growth rate. That was good enough to
rank No. 20 on the
2007 Fast 50.

Teddy Matheu, cofounder
and a partner at
Guident, said the downturn
in the commercial
market in 2001 and
increasing competition
from overseas prompted
the company's move into
the federal marketplace.
Although the partners
had very little experience
with federal contracting,
"we figured that the government
could benefit
from the best practices
of the commercial
space," he said.

Guident's first success
was a small one, a software sale to EPA.
The company won its first government
services contract soon after that, when a
former employee who was then working for
a large integrator on a State Department
contract recommended Guident to provide
Oracle support for the consular affairs

To increase its government business,
Guident created a five-member federal
advisory board in 2004, composed of former
agency officials and private-industry
executives. Thanks in part to the advisory
board's advice, Matheu said, Guident's government
client list has grown to include
GSA, the Food and Drug Administration
and the Government Printing Office.

Guident's most recent awards include a
$2.5 million task order from EPA and a
$1.5 million GPO contract for an Oracle
financial services implementation. "We've
had a busy month," said Dan Ackerman, a
partner at Guident.

"About 50 percent of our work is in the
commercial sector and about 50 percent in
the government sector," he added, "which is
pretty much where we want to stay."

Guident has more than 120 employees,
and Matheu envisions further growth. "In
the last two years, we have experienced
over 100 percent growth. We're going to
continue to expand and grow."

Veronica Wilson, a Navy veteran, and
Derrick Morris, an Army veteran, put aside
any latent service rivalries in 2000 to
establish New Vision Engineering Group
Inc., an 8(a) veteran-owned IT provider.
Now, less than seven years later, NVEG
has cracked the ranks of the Fast 50 at No.
36. The company recorded $3.8 million in
government revenue in 2006 for a 51.7 percent
compound annual growth rate.

Morris said he believes much of the company's
success has resulted from a decision
to rely on its core competence.

"When we started off, we were a myriad
of services," he said. "We provided networking,
Web development, Web support and
those types of things. As we started to grow
over the years, we really started to focus on
business intelligence."

As veterans, Morris and Wilson always
wanted to work with the Defense
Department. They gained a lasting foothold
when NVEG won a contract from the
Defense Contracting Management Agency,
which remains the Falls Church, Va., company's
biggest government customer. That
contract has led to more DOD work.

"We just finished a major contract with
the Department of the Army, where we
provided a data warehouse," Morris said,
adding that NVEG has bid on another
major DOD contract that should be awarded

About 50 percent of NVEG's contracts
are a result of its 8(a) designation, he said.
"Having the 8(a) [designation] does
bring some attention to your company, but
you still have to be able to perform," Wilson
said, adding that NVEG has been the prime
contractor on all the 8(a) contracts it has

Wilson and Morris said their 13-
employee company will stay small as
they look to broaden NVEG's business
intelligence services and data warehousing.
"As the contracts come through, we'll staff
them," Morris said.

Associate Editor David Hubler can be reached at

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