HUBZone-certified companies showcased their latest innovations at the Central Florida Tech Grove during the Innovation Harvest Day: HUBZone Showcase on Oct. 26.

 

HUBZone is a Small Business Administration (SBA) program launched in 1999 for small businesses that operate and employ people in historically underutilized business zones, referred to as “HUBZones.” The HUBZone program’s mission is to promote job growth, capital investment, and economic development in economically distressed communities by providing contracting assistance to small businesses located in these areas.

 

In addition to providing a venue to exhibit technology and show military and government representatives the innovation that HUBZone firms could can provide, the event also served as a networking forum to match HUBZone industry with government agencies.

 

“Expanding the number and diversity of small businesses in federal contracting is critical to a healthy industrial base,” Lori Gillen, director for the SBA’s Office of the HUBZone Program, said during her speech that began the event. “In fact, the federal government’s small business procurement mission was established to ensure the defense industrial base was nimble and competitive – not just because it looks good to support small businesses.”

 

Gillen acknowledged challenges the government has had in meeting its goal of granting 3% of federal contracts to HUBZone-certified firms.

 

“The bad news is that the federal government has not yet reached that 3% goal,” Gillen said. “The good news is that we continue to get closer to that goal every year, and in Fiscal Year 2022 the government awarded a record $16 billion to HUBZone firms, which represented 2.65% – a fifth, straight year of improvement – so the trajectory is moving in the right direction. The even better news is that 63% of federal agencies have now met or exceeded their HUBZone goal.”

 

Gillen also took a few moments during her opening comments to debunk some myths surrounding the HUBZone program. First, she addressed the belief that HUBZones “don’t sell what the government buys,” clarifying that the number one thing HUBZone businesses provide is professional services, and emphasized that HUBZone firms are also innovators, IT specialists and technology leaders.

 

Second, Gillen mentioned the misperception that contracting with HUBZone companies was “too complicated,” to which she countered that changes to the program in 2019 made it easier for firms to maintain compliance and contracting officials to use the program.

 

“Myth number three: Finding qualified HUBZone firms is difficult,” Gillen said. “There are roughly 4500 firms in the program at any given time and more firms enter every day as we continue to conduct outreach and expand our footprint.”

 

Praveen Singalla is founder and CEO of Diaconia, a HUBZone-certified business based in Maryland that rapidly builds prototype solutions for its clients. Diaconia’s “Golden Hour” solution scans data from satellites to support first responders in natural disasters and war zones by helping them navigate through affected areas to rescue people (for example, trapped under rubble) as soon as possible.

 

According to medical professionals, people receiving treatment within the “golden hour” following a physical trauma is crucial to minimizing damage and saving lives. Singalla said HUBZone status has helped his company provide people with opportunities to learn technical skills to get better careers, and that status has also helped infuse investment capital to change a HUBZone to a non-HUBZone.

 

“Our goal [at this event] is to showcase local clients here and demonstrate that you don’t have to wait for months to identify what solution fits your needs,” Singalla said. “We want to identify ourselves as an organization that [government] can partner and collaborate with. We can help build solutions through investments that we have already made internally, so there’s no risk in investment for the government up front, but they can come work with us, and we can help build prototype solutions for them.”

 

After her speech, Gillen reemphasized the importance of HUBZone-certified companies and was happy to see the level of participation at the event.

 

“These HUBZone firms are highly capable, and we need robust small business participation in the federal procurement space to ensure a dynamic industrial base for the U.S. economy,” Gillen said. “I love that the federal folks are paying attention to HUBZone small businesses, trying to encourage them, and figuring out ways to do business with them.”

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