by Kathleen Ganster
Vetrepreneur Magazine, January 2011
The Chamber of Commerce is a long-standing local institution small businesses depend on for assistance in reaching new clients, networking and learning about local resources. But the Montgomery County Chamber in Rockville, Md., which recently joined as a Buy Veteran Chamber Partner, has taken its services one step further – it trains vets to compete for federal contracts.
In 2009, when the chamber celebrated its 50th anniversary, it also created the Montgomery County Chamber Community Foundation, a non-profit organization. As part of its efforts to reach and educate more people, the foundation created the Veteran Institute for Procurement. (VIP)
“We saw the need to help veteran-owned businesses learn how to bid and win federal contracts, but we also saw the need of the government to meet requirements to award contracts to veteran-owned businesses,” said Barbara Ashe, president of the foundation. The result is an intensive program for vetrepreneurs that educates them on the arduous process of navigating the federal contracting arena. And the best part, it’s free of charge
for the vets, thanks to the generosity of corporate sponsors.
VIP is Born
The foundation partnered with government agencies and corporations to find the “best experts in the field,” Ashe said.” The program also identified 40 vetrepreneurs who wanted to learn how to grow their businesses. “This wasn’t a ‘how to start your own business seminar,’ but how to take your business to the next step by securing government contracts,” Ashe said.
In order to participate, vetrepreneurs had to meet certain requirements: have at least three full-time employees, be a small business for two years, and have experience working on a government contract as a prime or sub contractor to a prime contractor.
Through a program of six three-hour sessions, the vetrepreneurs learned the ins and outs from these experts. Ben Long, president and CEO of LongView International Technology Solutions, Inc., was in the first class at VIP. “They didn’t just bring in experts, but some of the best experts in the country,” he said, “And the written material was excellent and digestible. I still refer to it all of the time.”
Not everything Long learned was new, but it was all helpful. “They gave us a lot of affirmation. We knew we were going down a path and they helped us to execute the right path.”
Thanks, in part, to information that Long learned from the VIP program, his company will be expanding in the next few months. “They gave us tools to help us increase our capabilities,” he said.
Recent VIP graduate Cassandra Roberts, president/CEO of Roberts Logistics Enterprise, LLC, agreed with Long.
“The information that I walked away with was amazing. If I had to pay for this course, it would easily be $8,000 to $10,000,” she said. Roberts said that she is now teaming with other companies and working on securing contracts that she never would have thought of approaching in the past. Now, after serving more than 120 veterans from the greater Montgomery County area, the program is expanding. “We knew that this was a good program, but we also knew we could reach more people,” Ashe said.
In March, the VIP program will transform into a three-day training and certification program held at the Bolger Center in Montgomery County. “We realized we couldn’t get the same experts, from both government and industry, if we took the program on the road, so we are bringing the veterans here to Washington DC, the hub of government contracting,” Ashe explained.
The program will utilize not only the same experts, but the same overall curriculum as well. “We will just put it into a format to make it possible to expand the program nationwide,” “By moving to a national model, not only will we be able to serve more veterans, we’ll also enable relationship building with government agencies, industry prime contractors, and each other. While the tools taught in the program are beneficial, these new relationships are proving to be invaluable to helping veterans grow their businesses,” said Ashe.