There are loads of benefits to supporting small businesses. They can be friendlier, more transparent, more accessible, and less hierarchical. Plus, they can provide the government with great services – just as good as larger businesses who engage in acquisitions with the U.S. government. The only caveat is that small businesses need a little bit of help to get their foot in the door.
To help small businesses navigate the complexities of the acquisitions process with the government, the American Council on Technology and the Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) is hosting its ninth annual Small Business Conference on April 22nd in Washington, D.C. Christopher Dorobek, host of the podcast DorobekINSIDER, sat down with Rabiah Sutton, Industry Chair of the Conference and CEO of Forward Think, to discuss the challenges facing small businesses in the acquisitions process, and how the conference hopes to address these challenges.
The conference will host a series of speakers, workshops, and breakout sessions focusing on selling technologies to the government from the perspective of the small business.
Small businesses are up against different challenges than larger companies. Access to capital is the main issue that gets talked about. But additionally, there’s the problem of obtaining the demonstrated experience the government requires on its contract. “It’s that Catch 22 of having past performance to get a contract,” Sutton said. “The government wants you to have past performance in order to get a contract, but you need the contract in order to get past performance.”
For small businesses hoping to sell technologies to the government, there are a couple of topics that Sutton thinks need more attention. These topics include proposal support on acquisition basics, financial management, and exporting small business innovation research (SBIRs). “We thought those topics were pertinent, because we did some research and found out a lot of small businesses don’t know about those programs,” Sutton said.
Sutton said that there are a lot of misconceptions, as many small businesses don’t realize what exactly they can export. “I think a lot of people think that exporting is for commodities, and don’t know that they can actually export their services,” she explained. “And then for those small businesses who have technology they’re trying to produce, they aren’t aware of the programs and research funds they can apply to and get a grand to help fund their technology. And we know that government needs that technology.”
The conference will also have sessions to help small businesses think through the challenges they’re facing. They’ll be breaking into small groups and having discussions to develop solutions to problems such as access to capital, human capital concerns, technology must-haves, leadership development, and more. Sutton and her co-chair Izella Dornell, Deputy CIO of the Department of Commerce, wanted to be sure to leave the attendees with what she referred to as “tangible actionable items” to help them combat these issues and deliver better services to the government.
Although the challenges exist, at the end of the day, Sutton is optimistic about the current landscape for small businesses. “I think these are good times for small businesses. They definitely come with their challenges, but it’s good times,” she concluded.