How can small businesses team with large contractors? Ask Shiv Krishnan

Shiv Krishnan, president and CEO of INDUS, knows what it takes for a small company to rise to the top. Krishnan is the incoming chairman of a rapidly growing industry organization, Small and Emerging Contractors Advisory Forum. SECAF has more than 175 small businesses as members, and is focused on helping small businesses achieve success as government contractors.

How can a business persevere — and thrive — in the government contracting space?

Shiv Krishnan: When you’re starting in the federal government business, you first need to figure out your strength. Once you figure out exactly what your strengths are — what you know how to do exceptionally well — then start focusing on that. Then you will know who within the government maybe is looking to buy those kinds of services.

Also, another major support mechanism that you have available are large prime contractors: Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, CSC, and several mid-tier companies, which are anywhere between $80 million to a billion in size. All of these companies have small business requirements that they look to fulfill by subcontracting to small businesses.

As for persevering: It is essentially the drive and the confidence in yourself that moves you forward. In my case I was completely aware I could totally fail and if I did, then I could always get a job.

How does an emerging business attract top talent?

Shiv Krishnan: A lot of the companies out there are very small. But they are still attractive places to work. People who end up working for very large corporations either through acquisitions or reassignments may confront a bureaucracy they may not be comfortable working in. They may want the thrill and the excitement of contributing to the rapid growth of a mid-tier company like INDUS.

There are millions of small businesses out there and only several hundred, if that many, large businesses in the government space. INDUS is a $100 million company. If you look at INDUS, we are probably among the top 100 prime contractors for the government along with Lockheed Martin at the top with $42 billion revenues.

Whenever a very successful company is being acquired by a large corporation like GD or SAIC that is one of the best things that can happen to INDUS, because inevitably there will be high performance leaders in those companies looking for a change; they may not want to go work for a large corporation. If I can convince some of those people to work for us, it is a great addition to INDUS and strengthening our executive team. That happens all the time in our industry.

In a recent Washington Post piece, you mentioned small business programs offered by the government — can you name a few?

Shiv Krishnan: There are a multitude of programs. A more visible program out there is the Minority Contracting Program; it is also called the SBA 8(a) program. It allows the government to set aside a certain number of contracts for minority-owned companies. Then there is a whole category called Small Business Set Aside Programs. One is the HUB-Zone (Historically Underutilized Business) Program. There are several geographic regions around the country categorized as HUB Zones which the government has decided have been historically underutilized, as far as business growth is concerned. In addition, there is the Small and Women-Owned Business Program and Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Business Program.

I am the incoming chairman of a rapidly growing industry organization called Small and Emerging Contractors Advisory Forum (SECAF) which has more than 175 small businesses as members, and is focused on helping small businesses achieve success as government contractors (www.secaf.org).
Government small business programs and organizations like SECAF, are interested in supporting the development of a vibrant small business community which fosters competition, innovation, and best value.

What did you recently speak on during National Small Business Week?

Shiv Krishnan: The topic was “The Procurement Forum and How Small Businesses Team with Large Contractors Effectively.”

You wear many hats — what motivates you to volunteer on behalf of SECAF?

Shiv Krishnan: It is a multiple part answer. Part of me wants to give back to other small businesses that are in the same situation that INDUS was 10-15 years ago when we were starting out. In a sense it is an investment of my time that meets a lot of objectives. One is the personal satisfaction of working with small emerging companies, two is it is good for business, number three is it is a great way of building a partnership and growing your business. So across the board it is a win-win-win for all parties involved.

Interview with Shiv Krishnan conducted by Lisa Singh

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