The Right Stuff

NASA brings small business opportunities down to earth

Small business participation in NASA programs represents over 30% of its business portfolio and plays a critical role in key programs like the International Space Station, the Mars Pathfinder, QuikScat, and the John Glenn launch, just to name a few,” says Ralph C. Thomas III, associate administrator for Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization at NASA headquarters (www.hq.nasa.gov/ office/codek), in Washington, D.C.

According to Thomas, NASA spends $11 billion in contracts every year. Two billion dollars, or 18.3% of that figure, must be awarded to minority and small and disadvantaged businesses.

Under his leadership, the agency’s total dollars to small businesses increased to $3.5 billion in 2000, up from $2.2 billion in 1991.

Since 1994, NASA has offered an intensive Training and Development for Small Businesses in Advanced Technologies (TADSBAT; 800-933-8483) course, teaching entrepreneurs how to market, bid, perform, and close out contracts with the space administration. “Companies must have been in operation for no less than two years to participate,” says Thomas. “There is a $50 registration fee to cover lunch for the three-day session, and participation is limited to two persons per company. If you meet that criteria, NASA strongly encourages business owners to sign up for the courses.”

Five African American-owned businesses are on NASA’s FY 2000 Top 100 List of Prime Contractors, including RS Information Systems (RSIS), No. 44 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $82 million in sales (www.rsis.com), of McLean, Virginia, which earned NASA’s Minority Contractor of the Year award for 2000, providing information technology and engineering services worth $6 million over a five-year period, IT support for the Goddard Space Flight Center worth $30 million, and a $60 million contract for the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, providing scientific and computational engineering and IT support.

Rodney P. Hunt, president and CEO of RSIS, suggests entrepreneurs meet with the folks at the NASA Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization Office (SDBU) and tell their stories. “Eight years ago, my partner and I simply called the SDBU and asked who we should speak to regarding our company and the services we offered,” says Hunt. “We were introduced to Ralph Thomas III, who was very receptive to our ideas and informed us about the available courses that we should take in order to become familiar with the vendor bid/award process and NASA’s Website that lists the top contractors, some of whom we might be able to subcontract under. We ultimately won and executed the first contract, which in turn led to others.”

Charles E. Harper, chairman and CEO of Sierra Monolithics Inc. (www.mono lithics.com), in Redondo Beach, California, a graduate of the 8(a) program, attended NASA’s Aeronautics Forum in 1995, presented his firm’s optical networking system capabilities, and landed a $3 million contract to design silicon germanium chipsets for satellite communications for the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. “NASA provides a platform for companies to present their existing technologies and once on board, discovers ways for using them within and outside of the agency, assisting in the commercialization of the end

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