In mid-August, the Central Florida Tech Grove teamed with Women in Defense Central Florida and Women in Tech & Entrepreneurship (WTE) Orlando chapter to host the Breaking Barriers: Women Shaping the Future of Defense Contracting event. The panel, moderated by WTE founder, Raechel Canipe, featured three respected women in the modeling, simulation, and training industry as panelists: Carol Ann Dykes Logue, director of the Central Florida Tech Grove; Ana Irving, CEO for Engenium; and Dolly Oberoi, founder and CEO of C2 Technologies.


Kicking off the event, from her “home stage” at the Tech Grove, Logue welcomed the audience, which included both in-person and online participants, to the event. “Working in government contracting offers opportunities to bring your creativity, bring your passion, and bring your solutions and collaborate energy to bear on the needs of our men and women defending our freedom every day and help them be prepared to be safe, perform well and come home alive,” said Logue.


Logue went on to explain that there is a desperate need to grow the number of companies and innovators that are serving the Department of Defense (DoD). The leading edge innovations are often happening in the commercial sector as well as academia and other industries. Bringing those innovators into the defense industry base helps accelerate solving the hard problems that ultimately allow solutions for DoD.


Canipe, as moderator, said she was very excited about this event because she was a prior defense industry position executive. “I come from a big military family and I know there are a lot of opportunities and I’m excited to connect you all with these amazing women on stage.”


Each of the three panelists gave a short summary of their journey and how they got to where they are today.


Irving, who called herself a serial company builder, has founded and grown companies in both England and the U.S. In between her UK business, which was a professional services organization she grew to employ 250 engineers, and the Orlando-based Engenium, also a professional services company specializing in engineering services, she worked for Southwest, Embraer and a large marketing company. About her current company, Engenium, she said, “Our main focus is people – we are a people company.”


Oberoi, who grew up in a family of educators in India, came to the U.S. to chase “a crazy idea,” returned home and then went back to the U.S., where she applied to go to school. “I got accepted into school and then I graduated with this fancy degree – innovations in education technology – that nobody understood what it was,” Oberoi said. After returning to her parents with her “fancy” degree that she wasn’t quite sure what to do with, her mother told her she must return to the U.S. and apply her education. After a job in Washington, D.C. and boredom, Oberoi thought to herself, “I can do this myself and that’s when I launched my company.”


For Logue, the “other hat” she wears is the director of the University of Central Florida Business Incubation Program. Before coming to UCF, she worked at University of Florida supporting NASA and its tech transfer commercialization as well as several DoD research laboratories. “Most of my career I have been involved with science and technology, helping to support the movement of innovations out of federal labs or university labs into the hands of companies that can commercialize that.” In her incubator role, she discovered there are a lot of companies doing business with the DoD, not just in MS&T, but a very vast defense industry including space-related technologies, advanced materials for optics and photonics, artificial intelligence, and others. “It is truly a privilege to do what we do every day and we look forward to helping you get engaged with us,” said Logue.


Canipe added, “There are so many spaces for anyone in this audience to get involved in the defense contracting industry right now.”



Then Canipe asked each of them to discuss obstacles they had come upon throughout their careers.


Logue began that discussion, saying that “anything” can be called an obstacle if you think it is. “My message to you is don’t let that barrier be a barrier. Every one of you has amazing skills – don’t be afraid to step up and say hi. Be who you are and let them know you are in the room.



Oberoi said that her experience is different from Logue’s because culturally she is different. “I grew up speaking English so that wasn’t a barrier for me,” she said, “but it was a barrier for others who saw my face. There was a stereotype in their mind. If you are not part of the mainstream population, it is a lot more challenging because people make assumptions the moment they see you. Be unafraid. I’m five feet tall but you have to be six feet every day.”


Irving added that barriers can be found all over and are not an exclusive thing to America. After university, she attended law school because she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do. “That was probably the first time I found my first barriers and it came in the form of ‘I didn’t look like the rest of the people at this particular law school.’ I just didn’t let it be the barrier. You’re always going to have some kind of barrier, and this is why events like this are so important.”


Canipe noted that the reality is everyone has a barrier and everyone has some disadvantages. “It’s different for all of us how that looks, but it’s that attitude, how do we approach them and then what is within our control,” she said.


Comparing the past to today, Oberoi said that in the industry then, there was intrinsic bias. “That’s what led me to exit the Defense contractor I was working for,” said Oberoi. She was on a visa, not a citizen of the U.S., and it was a big leap. “Fast forward to now and there is still bias in industry, especially in technical and STEM fields where women are underrepresented, gender and cultural bias, lack of role models, mentors, etc.,” said Oberoi. “But today there are a lot of checks and balances put into place. There is progress and that is exciting, but there is more work that still has to be done.”


Irving said, “My advice for anyone who wants to get into this industry is to take a step back and see what it is that is appealing to you in this arena. Why is it that you want to get in in – because you may have to change yourself to get it.”


Logue talked about what past performance means to businesses in the defense industry. “That’s a very important phrase in this business,” Logue explained. “Past performance means you have a track record of having done business with the DoD. As a company with no past performance, the odds of you getting a contract are pretty much zero, but there are many opportunities for you as a company without past performance, programs like Other Transaction Authorities (OTAs), the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.”


Here’s what the three experts and the moderator advised the audience:


1. Be unafraid.
2. Make your presence known.
3. Don’t let the barrier be a barrier.
4. Network, network, network.
5. You may have to change yourself to find a fit.
6. You don’t need past performance to get your shot; there are other ways.



Find out more information on these groups and their future events: Central Florida Tech Grove, Women in Tech & Entrepreneurship, and Women in Defense- Central Florida.

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