Small company shows how to win business

BY Michael Hardy

The recent announcement that retired Air Force Gen. John Jumper had joined PlatinumSolutions' board of advisers was a high-profile event for the company. Like many firms founded and managed by young business leaders, PlatinumSolutions has been trying to get its name more widely known in the government market.

The company has had some successes. It counts the FBI, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Virtual Translation Center as customers. With 50 employees and six years in business, the firm hopes more growth is yet to come.

Young companies have to take advantage of all the tools available to them, said Bob Guerra, a partner at consulting firm Guerra Kiviat. The General Services Administration schedule, mentor/prot'g' programs and set-aside contracts for specific types of small businesses can all help, he added.

Chip Mather, a partner at Acquisition Solutions, offered another tip for young firms. 'Focus on a few carefully selected customers at first,' he said. 'The federal government is massive, and you cannot chase every potential opportunity.'

Well-served customers will be good references for winning new contracts, he said. 'Government is like any other customer in that it reduces risk to show where you have been successful before,' Mather said.

PlatinumSolutions' founders, husband and wife Adam and Laila Rossi, are now in their early 30s. They were working at other firms when they launched PlatinumSolutions with $30,000 of their own money in 1999. Their first government project was as a subcontractor to Science Applications International Corp. on an FBI contract. Eventually, the company's commercial work fell away, and it became a government contractor exclusively.

An FBI agent impressed by the company's performance on a project recommended them to the FDA. By 2002, the company had passed the 50 percent mark of balancing prime contracts with subcontracts, and by the end of 2005 it was doing about 85 percent of its work as a prime contractor, said Laila Rossi, who serves as chief executive officer of the company. Her husband is president.

The company qualifies for advantages under the government's 8(a) and woman-owned business programs, but 'it's not the type of work we typically go after,' Laila Rossi said.

Mather, Guerra and other consultants stress the importance of doing superb work for clients to build a good reputation.

James Shugars, acting deputy director of the Office of Information Technology at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, is one of them. PlatinumSolutions developed the first release of the Document Archiving, Reporting and Regulatory Tracking System for the FDA.

'Even though they're an 8(a) company, they have acted as a systems integrator, which I find to be a little bit unusual in that you would have a smaller company that would provide the integration expertise,' Shugars said. 'They've done a good job for us.' n

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