By Terry Rydz, Tech Engagement Manager at Dcode
Now that end-of-year metrics and new year kick-offs have concluded, many tech companies are considering strategies, and we have one question we think they should all be asking: should we go after the federal market?
Answering that question isn’t straightforward and anyone thinking about it should consider selling to the biggest tech buyer in the country. While there’s no one-size fits all approach for those tech companies that do decide to pursue the federal market, there are best practices you should consider.
Don’t go it alone.
It’s faster and simpler to scale in the federal market when you can rely on the expertise of those who have done it before. However, younger tech companies may not have the resources to build a team of veteran federal sales reps and solutions engineers.
Instead, the path of least resistance for many is to team up with established government vendors, often known as systems integrators. These partners hold existing relationships across the government and can offer subcontracting opportunities to innovative tech companies. Dcode alumni company Trifacta, the industry leader on data wrangling, built a successful partnership with Leidos to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) efforts to monitor the outbreak of HIV as it relates to the opioid epidemic.
Subcontracting is not only easier than trying to directly compete for a contract yourself, but it provides an opportunity to establish your credentials as a trusted vendor with the nation’s largest risk-averse client. Additionally, systems integrators are increasingly incentivized to work with smaller tech companies as government agencies look to tap into America’s innovation base and support small businesses.
Play the long game…
If ever there was a morning mantra for those of us working at the intersection of innovative tech and government, it would be patience and persistence. The government procurement cycle is complex, don’t get discouraged if a promising government meeting is followed by radio silence or a killer presentation was actually to someone without purchasing power. These are common scenarios tech companies face in the federal market, but it doesn’t mean you’ve lost momentum.
Building strong relationships and consistently engaging with the government community often makes or breaks a tech company’s success in the federal government. The more engaged and active you are in the federal community, the more you’ll see results. You may not meet with a buyer right away, but the relationships and connections you form will lead you to the right people in time and keep you at the top of their mind for future solicitations.
At Dcode, we regularly connect our alumni companies with opportunities to influence government solicitations, like responding to a request for information (RFI) and attending industry days. We also introduce companies to government officials to foster conversations and relationships between the public and private sector. For example, in late 2020, Dcode alumni companies Fraym and Hyperscience informally met with government officials about the hurdles tech companies face when working with the government, and shared their insights on how to improve the process. Over time, relationships like these will strengthen your company’s federal market presence and ability to get on contracts.
…but don’t pass up a quick win.
It’s no secret that the federal government has a reputation for moving slow. Attend any defense and homeland security industry summit, and you will hear “moving at the speed of business” mentioned more than once as a top priority.
So, focus your attention and resources on leveraging the acquisitions programs specifically designed to bring in innovative tech fast, like the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, Other Transaction Authority (OTAs), and Commercial Solutions Openings (CSOs).
(Side note: the government loves acronyms. If you are going to commit any to memory, make it SBIR, OTA, and CSO.)
Each of these programs have their own pros and cons. SBIRs and OTAs provide a way for companies to prototype their tech for active Department of Defense (DoD) use cases, as well as a path to scale those solutions. Trueface, a facial recognition company, recently won a Phase II SBIR to help Eglin Air Force Base and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst stop the spread of coronavirus by identifying cleared individuals for contactless base entrance.
Ultimately, these contract vehicles represent some of the fastest ways to start working with the government. The tricky part is successfully navigating the transition from prototype to production.
Dcode alumni companies have found success in the federal market by working with trusted partners, building relationships, and going after quick wins that align with their goals. With these strategies, they’ve grown their federal business lines, made connections in government communities, and won contracts. Follow their lead, and don’t let the federal market opportunity pass your company by.
Learn more about how to kickstart your entry in the federal market at dcode.co/tech →