U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Conference Draws Small Businesses Looking for Big Contracts
Business isn’t for the fainthearted. Consider the small business owner, who must shepherd a company through the entrepreneurial days of sweat equity to build a brand and experience sustainable growth. Challenges are myriad, and the turbulent economy requires an extra measure of resilience.
Networking is critical for those seeking an edge. It’s no surprise, then, that 220 attendees and 40 exhibitors joined the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) for its Advanced Planning Briefing for Industry and Small Business Conference in Hagerstown, MD, eager to learn of opportunities and meet subcommand leaders. Their hope was to turn a stack of business cards into profitable contracts.
Jerome Maultsby, organizer of the inaugural April 26 conference and Associate Director of the Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP) at USAMRMC, said, “Our goal was to help [business firms] become better acquainted with our mission requirements … while gaining a better sense of what’s on the horizon in terms of current and future procurements.”
The OSBP forges business-government alliances and equips small businesses to compete for procurements. The office supports firms that provide relevant products, services, and solutions in research, acquisition, logistics, and technology that benefit the Nation’s warfighter.
USAMRMC, the Army’s medical materiel developer, is responsible for medical research, development, and acquisition, as well as medical logistics management. It’s a major contributor to the overall Army Small Business Program, with 24 percent of its $2 billion budget going to affiliated contractors. The U.S. Army Medical Command alone spends roughly half of its budget on small firms. Small businesses are the beneficiaries of much of this spending.
Winning a coveted contract can be a complex, bewildering experience, and the conference helped to demystify the process. It drew local and regional prime contractors and subcontractors, both seasoned and novice business firms. The day’s agenda centered on 20-minute project overviews from USAMRMC program managers and commanders, who reviewed the multifaceted program requirements with attendees.
Developing Better Business
MG James K. Gilman, Commanding General of USAMRMC and Fort Detrick, MD, urged attendees to put their best foot forward. “This conference is all about fostering competition. When you compete for our business, we win. And you win, too, because you develop a better business.”
Christine Demas, Director of the Fort Detrick Business Development Office (FDBDO), encouraged prospective contractors to work closely with FDBDO as they develop their proposals. “We want you to be able to come to the table with everyone else and compete,” she said.
FDBDO advises companies on all facets of doing business with Fort Detrick. “We offer training, from programs on federal contracting for beginners to teaming,” Demas explained. “We moved this year to webinars … you can attend our class from your desk over lunch.”
COL Russell Coleman, Commander of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, emphasized the importance of niche businesses: “The government does not build a single thing. We do it by relying on the commercial world, the business world. The challenge is making the right connection … and you have to do a good job selling what you have to offer.”
The conference provided such an opportunity to exhibitors Sheila and Dave Lucas, co-owners of Convergent Solution Inc. The Lakewood, CO, company sells an array of simulation software for interactive training in the medical and other fields.
“I’ve been trying to network into USUHS [the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences] since last June,” said Sheila Lucas. “COL [Judith D.] Robinson [Fort Detrick Garrison Commander] came over early in the morning, looked at our Cyber-Anatomy system and said, ‘Here’s the name of a key decision maker at the SimCenter [National Capital Area Medical Simulation Center].’ ”
A hopeful smile spread across Lucas’ face. “All we need are a few good contacts. All we need is to connect with a few key decision makers.”
Richard Smerbeck, Business Acceleration Manager for Dawnbreaker Inc., a Rochester, NY, company that helps commercialize small, high-technology businesses, was pleased with the high rank and level of the presenters. “It isn’t often you have the opportunity to meet so many decision makers in one place,” Smerbeck said. “I was even more impressed by [their] approachability. I wish more meetings were structured like this one.”
Smerbeck, an old hand at procurement, counseled newcomers to contracting to stay the course.
“Persistence and patience are very important, especially when you are starting out,” said Smerbeck. “You need to get your name and your services in front of purchasers and decision makers. Take the time to learn from others who are successful in gaining contracts. There’s a lot of assistance available. Submit white papers, respond to RFIs [Request for Information] and RFPs [Request for Proposal]. Always request a debrief on any proposal—successful or unsuccessful. Your diligence will pay off.”
- JILL LAUTERBORN is a writer for USAMRMC. She has nearly two decades of editing and writing experience.