How one entrepreneur's childhood forged a path to his own business

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect more concise information on the company.

Years before founding Engineering Software and Network Services, the value of running one’s own business would be instilled  into Clifton McKinney.

His parents were both entrepreneurs, with his father founding a small construction business. Through watching the growth of that business, McKinney knew that he wanted his own business, too.

But you have to be prepared, McKinney said his father told him. “You want to be in a state where, if something comes up, if there is something out there that you can go after, you are prepared.”

Preparation for McKinney was getting an education and becoming an electrical and computer engineer, he said. After college, he began working at IBM, designing circuit boards and writing software for them. Later, he moved onto systems engineering, where he learned simulation and how to simulate networks and computer systems.

“Because I had experience in those three areas, and because I wanted to start a technical company, I decided to call the company Engineering, Software and Network Services,” he said.

When the company was founded in 2002, ESNS initially worked with a number of members in the intelligence community. In 2007, though, the company branched out and began working with the Homeland Security and State Departments and in the financial services arena, namely with U.S. Bank, said vice president and chief operating officer Deames Peoples.

The Alexandria, Va., company provides engineering, logistics, program management and cybersecurity services to a number of customers in the intelligence community and in the federal civilian market.

“We started out doing mainly performance testing and a lot of quality assurance work, but we are doing cyber technology now, we are doing logistics, we are doing networking, so we are increasing our core technological base,” Peoples said.

“Prior to joining ESNS, I managed a program called Student Exchange Visitor Information System,” or SEVIS for short, Peoples said. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program, SEVIS acts as a bridge for government organizations that have an interest in information on non-immigrants whose primary reason for coming to the United States is to be students.

When Peoples left his former company and joined ESNS, he brought with him a piece of business with SEVIS, he said.

Now with 50 people on board, ESNS is focusing on its employees.

Maybe the greatest asset of ESNS’ employees, Peoples said, is that they are adaptable. “We all pride ourselves on being smart people and being able to adapt to the needs of our customers,” he said, which sometimes means going above and beyond what is in your title.

For example, with cybersecurity is so prevalent in the modern market, that the company has made sure to train some of its staff so that they can better serve their customers.

But despite ESNS’ employees being so busy, often out working with customers on-site, the company does wrangle up everyone quarterly to keep its employees in the loop in terms of the company’s strategy.

Aside from employees, ESNS also focuses on giving back to the community, and supports a number of charities and non-profit organizations including So Others Might Eat, the American Cancer Society and the Alzheimer’s Association.

Going forward, ESNS is focused on becoming a prime contractor. “We’re looking at going after some of the larger IDIQ contracts that are getting ready to hit the streets,” Peoples said, and the company is evolving to be competitive. “Also there are two or three smaller companies that we’re looking to acquire to help us grow that way.”

The company is organized around four business areas—engineering and logistics; information and cloud technology; cybersecurity; and program management— it plans on focusing its growth around those areas, said Tanice Gonsalves, chief strategy officer.

ESNS views acquisitions as a way to help it strengthen those core business areas as well add new ones, she said. Acquisitions are also attractive because through them, ESNS can pick up additional contracts, especially those that have already been awarded and do not have an on-ramp.

“The strategy there is building up a very strong pipeline that’s manageable and resourceful and leveraging that as we venture out with some new partnerships and some existing partnerships,” she said.

About the Author

Mark Hoover is a senior staff writer with Washington Technology. You can contact him at, or connect with him on Twitter at @mhooverWT.

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