Doing business with the government made simple
Sandra DiCosola

United States government agencies are some of the largest purchasers in the world. So how does a small business get its name and product in front of those purchasers?

One can start by finding someone like Sandra DiCosola of Summit Contract Management.

Finding someone with an extensive knowledge in government procurement can help a small business secure General Services Administration contracts, Small Business Innovative Research contracts and grants, subcontracting projects and other grants without the unexpected pitfalls along the way.

DiCosola has been in contract negotiations, more specifically government procurement contract negotiations for more than 20 years at two defense contractors and then as a consultant in the private sector.

DiCosola’s experience can help business owners move flawlessly through the seven steps that she calls the Procurement Lifecycle.

• Innovate – the company has the idea. A contract manager can help protect the intellectual property immediately.

• Find Solicitations – A contract manager can help a business find solicitations that fit the strengths of the business.

• Proposal – A good proposal will prevent a company from having to cover unexpected costs or having to return money at the project’s end.

• Pre-Award – The company confirms it will be able to perform the work requested and any contract changes are made.

• Award – Often, government contracts contain wording or pricing errors, omit important clauses or fail to reference other documents. Double checking is necessary.

• Perform and Deliver – Businesses need to stay on track, monitoring project property, cash flow and tracking indirect rates.

• Closeout – Final attention to detail is necessary to ensure the company has met its obligations. Provide the final report or deliverables and take the additional steps to protect the company’s intellectual property.

"I like dealing with government contracts for small businesses because government contracts are black and white and are very clear cut," DiCosola said. "They might have $25,000 to $30,000 sitting on a contract which wasn’t much for where I worked, but to them it is huge. Plus, working with a small business allows you to help them in every area you can, where at somewhere like Northrop Grumman, your focus was very deep and narrow. And there is always something new to learn or some new issue or problem to get around and I am never board with what I do."

Her most recent prize for continuing to learn is being named an approved provider of technical grant writing services for the AZFast grant program, by the Arizona Department of Commerce.

This program is specifically designed to serve as a catalyst for "techpreneurs" to develop and commercialize global technology by accessing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) federal funding, according to the Department of Commerce’s website.

Basically it is a program where small Arizona technology businesses can receive money to pay for the expenses of applying for more money for their business or idea.

Small Arizona technology companies with less than 100 employees or less than $4 million in revenue are encouraged to apply. The company’s primary business has to be in one of the following technology areas: advanced manufacturing, advanced materials, aerospace, biosciences, electronics, environmental sciences, information technology, nanotechnology, optics, telecommunications, or sustainable systems.

"There are so many things out there that companies don’t know about that can help them," Dicosola said. "Often, inventors or business people are good with their widget, but they don’t know the avenues to make it a business."

DiCosola said the SBIR or STTR funds available come in phases with the first phase as an award of up to $100,000 for a feasibility study. The recipient then submits a report on the feasibility of the idea and can be invited to apply for phase two funding which is up to $750,000 for research and development to deliver a working prototype. Phase three is the commercialization stage where funding is typically acquired outside the program.

"The Arizona Department of Commerce is trying to support business in Arizona," DiCosola said. "They see this as a way to encourage small businesses to get funding they need to create growth in the state."

DiCosola can also help get companies listed on General Service Administration GSA lists. It is where the government goes to find companies to work with.

"If Davis Monthan needed to purchase some furniture, they would consult the GSA list to find a GSA-approved company," she said.

DiCosola said she believes education is the foundation success and will constantly encourage her clients to attend free or low seminars or training.

"I will always refer people to the Small Business Development Center, SCORE and the Arizona Center for Innovation," she said. "People ask me why I would do that, and doesn’t that make me lose clients. The answer is no. The benefit is I need them to be successful business people so we can have a long-term working relationship. The more they know, the smarter decisions they will make."

It is also for this reason that she teaches classes at the Center for Innovation and the Small Business Development Center.

"I’ve always been fortunate in my career to have someone mentoring me," she said. "The SBDC are some of my advisors as well."

DiCosola is lecturing on government procurement Wednesday (May 14) at an AMIT (Aerospace, Manufacturing and Information Technology) event at Pima Community College 401 N. Bonita Road Rooms A109 and A112 from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The event is free.

Contact reporter Joe Pangburn at jpangburn@azbiz.com or (520) 295-4259.