Tech Grove launches matchmaker for contractors, military

Howard Herbert has experience on both sides of military contract work. While with the U.S. Air Force, Herbert occasionally became involved in procurement.

Now, as part of Scottsdale, Ariz.,-based Polaris Aero, he can take his experience into meetings while seeking work for the company’s cloud-based intelligence platform.

“When we brief the Air Force on our products, we can say that we have been in their shoes,” he said. “We know what they need as they make a pre-flight check. Basically, we know what they need before they know what they need.”

Perhaps that gave Herbert an advantage at Central Florida Tech Grove’s inaugural Innovation Marketplace.

The new event gives potential contractors face time with military brass in the region.

“We are looking to get our foot in the door with the Department of Defense and this is a good first step,” said Herbert, who is based in Boca Raton. “That’s the hardest part in this industry because we could have the best product on the market but until we get in front of the person who needs it, it’s a struggle.”

That’s one reason the team at Tech Grove, bolstered by the Orlando-based military community, created the event.

Event will return

Grove director Carol Ann Dykes Logue said they had been hearing from business leaders asking how to get in front of decision-makers in government.

The goal is to do a marketplace at least three times a year, with an invite-only format that gives 24 businesses a chance to show off their wares.

“It is like when you go to a farmer’s market, you request a booth,” Logue said.

The benefit for the contractor is clear: getting in front of the government.

On the flip side, however, it also gives government a chance to see solutions the public sector has been building.

“It’s an easy way to dip into the marketplace and see what’s out there,” Logue said. “It makes it easier for them to find solutions.”

A familiar setting

Jose Neto of PC Warriors has become familiar with the Central Florida Tech Grove.

Earlier this month, he participated in a hackathon at the space.

He attended the Innovation Marketplace to help his company make inroads to both the military and potential partners.

“It’s about meeting the key players and getting a feel for what they are looking for,” said Neto, who was Air Force paramilitary. “Most of these companies build great products but when it’s time to sell to the military, it’s not easy without a liaison.”

Landing military contracts can sometimes be difficult for companies that have not done so in the past.

In fact, sometimes the only way to do so is to subcontract on a deal with an experienced company.

However, events like the Innovation Marketplace can make barriers less daunting because initial meetings happen in a casual setting.

Eduworks has already gone through certifications and other processes required to work with the government.

But before that, it had to serve as a subcontractor on military work with others.

“As a small business, it can be tough to get in front of everybody on a regional basis,” said Tim Welch, program manager for the Orlando-based firm. “This connects you to the government and other businesses in the space.”