The problem: Federal funding gives small businesses the help needed to take the new technology from the idea stage to reality. But lack of capital investment in the companies, once federal funding ends, leads to the death of the concept, dooming promising products.
Now a Colorado Springs-based company is working to reverse that trend, providing small businesses with some much-needed help, while at the same time, encouraging university research into software and cyber products.
That company is Intelligent Software Solutions, a privately held company that, not so long ago, was a small business itself. One of the fastest-growing companies in the nation, ISS has other offices in Denver, Hampton, Va.; Washington, D.C.; Rome, N.Y.; Boston and Tampa, Fla.
The company specializes in open software design, intelligence gathering and analysis for the government and other clients.
“About 1 percent of the Department of Defense budget goes to small business innovation research,” says Dr. Kent Bimson, chief scientist and head of the ISS Small Business and University Technology Transition Partnership. “But 90 percent of the research done under that budget never sees the light of day. From our perspective, we’re working on how do you do a better job of leveraging billions on research every year?”
In what it bills as a “win-win-win” situation for its clients, small businesses and the company itself, ISS hopes to build the bridge between the SBIR funding and the small business standing on its own.
“We think everyone benefits if research is translated to commercial use quickly,” said Bimson, who was hired to create and administer the program for ISS. “We can help small businesses succeed and we can be their partner in that success — it’s a win for us. And with universities, we can make sure that their research has practical uses that match the need that’s out there.”
About a year in the making, the ISS program works to create partnerships with small businesses bidding on government contracts. It’s been successful in other parts of the country, said Bimson.
In fact, ISS just launched a formal partnership with Auburn University in Alabama to provide data analysis services to students, government and military customers.
As part of the partnership, Auburn students will work with the ISS data analysis software toolkit. It’s a big benefit to students in the university’s fledgling cyber program, said Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Ron Burgess, who heads the program.
“From the academic standpoint, it provides research and workforce development outreach across the industry,” Burgess said. “The partnership gives a strong possibility of providing more help to the research piece of it.”
ISS will benefit too, he says.
“Well, one thing we can do is to see if students can break a new product,” he said. “Not really ‘break it,’ in terms of making it crash, but making sure it works the way they thought it would. Students tend to see if they can do a work-around, see if they can find out ways around things. Doing that has a lot of practical benefits.”
Auburn students and faculty will have the chance to develop a curriculum with real-world impact, Bimson said.
“And then they’ll be able to take what they’ve learned and spin it off into businesses that will go after government contracts — public safety and intelligence work,” he said. “It’s a big benefit to the university.”
It’s the first university partnership for both entities, but both say they’ll be expanding.
“We’ll spread out a little,” Burgess said. “We’ll make sure we’re covering the industry completely. I see no reason to limit it just to one sector, or one company.”
Meanwhile, Bimson is already hard at work to meet with Colorado institutions that might be interested in partnering.
“Up to this point, I’ve been using contacts I already had to create these partnerships,” he said. “But I have meetings scheduled with Colorado State University, and I’m interested in talking to the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. We’ll get there — this program is still really new. And it’s a one-man show right now.”
He’s also working with the University of New Mexico for a similar program.
“What we want is a direct focus on data, complementary expertise and to have the opportunity to create synergies across the board,” Bimson said. “It is always good when the world of business and academia can work together. Each side brings to the table unique talents and resources.”
Bringing new talent and new technology to the defense world is also the reason ISS is focusing on partnering with small businesses, bringing them into the defense contractor fold. The company hopes to continue to develop ways to analyze open-source intelligence — information that isn’t classified or secret, but could still make a difference for national security.
“To analyze open-source intelligence effectively,” Bimson said, “will require the continuous insertion of innovative technology to turn ever-increasing amounts of information into actionable intelligence. This ‘dream team’ partnership provides our small business and university participants with an ideal opportunity to test their evolving technologies in the context of training analysts for real world operations.”
ISS has worked with several small businesses already — and some of those partnerships have resulted in government contracts.
ISS views the partnerships as vital both to businesses and customers, Bimson said.
“It wasn’t that long ago that ISS was a small business itself,” he said. “Even four years ago, the DoD considered us a small business. Now that we’ve graduated to larger business status, we think it’s important to help other small businesses succeed.”
And ISS is in it for the long haul, he said.
“We’re going to create mature research by focusing on it early in the research-and-development process,” he said. “Making sure that what companies are doing really meets what clients are asking for.”
It’s something ISS has experience doing. It’s spent the past decade creating new software and then transitioning it to commercial use around the world.
“We’re large enough to transition emerging technologies,” Bimson said. “Now we’re a medium-sized corporation, but we’re still small enough to be flexible in the R&D process.”
Founder and owner: Jay Jesse
Colorado Springs – headquarters
Four-year growth (2009-2012): 184 percent
2011 revenue: $166 million
2008 revenue: $58.4 million
Jobs added, previous three years: 347
49th on Top 100 Colorado companies
Inc. 5000 honoree – five years in a row
Deloitte fast-growing company for past 10 years
Smart 25 award from B2B
94th in Washington Technology’s Top 100 Contractors
Latest contract awards:
$593 million, Air Force Software, December 2012
$249 million, Air Force Command and Control, February 2013