Goals are great, but homework makes teams
- By Gary Arlen
- Dec 12, 2005
Mihir Shah and Stella Mercado Colwell of Suh'dutsing Technologies LLC and MerCom, respectively, met Kim Bowley at State Department small-business networking events early this autumn. By November, both 8(a), HUBZone companies were teamed with ManTech International Corp., where Bowley has been the small-business liaison officer since 1990.
Partnering relationships are not always implemented so quickly, Bowley said, but the two companies had skills that met ManTech's immediate needs, and both had followed her fundamental teaming advice: "Do your homework."
"A key success factor in terms of improving your ability to work with ManTech [is to] determine how the capabilities of your small business can mesh with ManTech's to provide solutions for the federal government, whether it is tied to a market area or a specific contract," Bowley said.
For Shah, strategic alliance manager at Suh'dutsing, a small, disadvantaged Native American Indian company in Chantilly, Va., and Cedar City, Utah, the ManTech connection led to an assignment in exercise planning and execution for an information security and assurance and project management contract with the Army.
For MerCom, a Pawley's Island, S.C., woman-owned business that Colwell founded, ManTech had several immediate projects. One involves network infrastructure, engineering and IT product supply; the other is a radio frequency identification venture.
FINDING THE FIT
ManTech, with nearly $630 million in prime federal contracts, ranks No. 21 on Washington Technology's 2005 Top 100 list of federal prime contractors. The company relies heavily on small-business alliances, as underscored by its track record in exceeding Defense Department goals for subcontracts to small firms.
ManTech subcontracts about 63 percent of its Defense Department work to small businesses, well beyond the Pentagon's 23 percent goal. Similarly, its 10.5 percent share of work to veteran-owned small businesses exceeds the Defense Department's 3 percent goal in that category. About 8 percent of ManTech's Pentagon assignments go to women-owned small businesses, nearly double the Defense Department's benchmark.
ManTech has eight business units that use small-business partners. When Bowley makes contact with a small business and sees an immediate fit, she sends it directly to the ManTech unit that can use that skill.
When the fit is less obvious, Bowley does a phone interview of the potential partner. If she finds there is a good fit after all, she will bring in the company for a face-to-face meeting, she said.
"When ManTech selects subcontractors for a specific effort, we look at a company's capabilities and how they complement those of other teammates," she said. "We assess each company's technical capabilities, ability to support anticipated requirements, past performance and relevance of past work to expected tasking, number and capability of personnel, management structure, stability and ability to assist in meeting all small-business subcontracting goals."
ManTech's assignments run the gamut of government work in defense, intelligence and security sectors, including Justice, State and Transportation department projects. It seeks partners with expertise in systems engineering, systems integration, software development and similar skills. It is involved in seven active mentor-protégé projects.
The most recent relationship is with Kingfisher Systems LLC of Alexandria, Va., a service-disabled, veteran-owned business. Kingfisher is on three teams, and ManTech is assisting with security clearances, business management and business development.
Another mentor-protégé alliance with Evan Engineering PC of Chantilly, Va., has brought the small company into several ManTech projects. Bowley said her company is helping Evan become ISO certified and work on a maintenance configuration.
For recent Navy projects, ManTech has brought in frequently used subcontractors, such as Applied Techniques Corp., a woman-owned small business in Waldorf, Md., and HiPK LLC, a Dahlgren, Va., veteran-owned small business.
Prospective partners should brush up on ManTech using the company's small-business Web site, which relaunched this month at www.mantech.com/smallbusiness, Bowley said. The site includes information on pending projects as well as automated forms for joining the potential partners database.
Companies regularly ask Bowley for help in identifying their category codes in the North American Industrial Classification System and other fundamental tasks, she said. Bowley gets at least five to 10 calls a day from prospective small-business partners. The fastest responses go to companies that are well prepared to focus on a specific ManTech relationship, she said.
"I'd like them to go to the extended forecast [on the Web site] to see what's coming up, then call me," Bowley said. "I can guide them to the appropriate units here." Her explanatory letter on the site also gives direction to prospective small-business partners.
As part of her outreach effort, Bowley attends dozens of conferences and business development symposiums, such as agencies' small-business teaming events and Minority Enterprise Week. In addition to using the central repository database that ManTech has developed, Bowley also scans small-business sources such as the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, the Small Business Administration Web site and the Central Contractor Registration site.
Like many of her peers at other large contractors, Bowley said the need for small-business specialists will continue to grow.
"If we're working on a contract and the government expands some of the work, you try to hire people, but sometimes you cannot," she said. "It may be a quicker or better to bring in a small business that has those skills."
In particular, ManTech focuses on high-end defense, intelligence, homeland security and similar markets, Bowley said. Because the company also handles physical and cybersecurity for U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide, it has needs for subcontractors overseas. About two-thirds of its employees have security clearances.
"The higher the level of clearance, the better," Bowley said. "We consider geographical presence, and sometimes need companies that are based in the United States but can work overseas."
After finding a subcontracting or teaming requirement, ManTech reviews the technical expertise, skills and knowledge required. The company teams with financially sound organizations that have the capabilities matching the project. It may also run a Dun & Bradstreet report review, Bowley said.
But it all relies upon initial introduction. Some projects, such as the relationships that started at State Department meet-and-greet sessions, move with great alacrity. Far more of ManTech's extensive small-business alliances are the result of a more laborious process: scouring directories and project postings to identify appropriate matches.
Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications Inc., a Bethesda, Md., research firm. His e-mail address is GaryArlen@columnist.com