Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

How Hispanic-owned businesses can thrive in government contracting

Inspired to bring fellow Hispanic-identifying entrepreneurs into the federal contracting ecosystem, a DC-based founder and COO offers context and advice in this op-ed.

Arlene Wube has advice for Hispanic founders seeking government contracts.

(Photo by Shutterstock user SFIO CRACHO, used via a Creative Commons license)

This is a guest post by Arlene Wube, the cofounder, president and COO of Arlo Solutions. Wube’s DC-based company offers intelligence, cybersecurity and related services to US government agencies. Acknowledging the critiques often directed toward the term, Technical.ly retained Wube’s use of “Hispanic” upon her clarification that she identifies with that term over others, like “Latinx,” that we typically use instead
Although Hispanic-owned businesses are among the United States’ fastest-growing entrepreneurial groups, the government has historically awarded few government contracts to these businesses — or even any owned by other minorities.

That’s particularly true in the cybersecurity field and particularly in the field of cybersecurity. In 2021, the Department of Labor reported that only 5% of businesses registered to receive federal contracts have Hispanic owners. The number that actually earned these highly sought-after contracts is vastly lower.

The current presidential administration seeks to level the playing field for underserved small business owners. That’s why now is the time for Hispanic entrepreneurs to break into government contracting.

Why the lack of diversity in the first place?

“Diversity” isn’t just a fluffy word to make companies feel good about their culture. Having a diverse workforce is essential for innovation, better decision-making and building a more agile government. So why are there so few Hispanics in government contracting anyway?

Overall, the Hispanic community has little awareness of this industry and its opportunities. Combined with a disproportionate lack of access to higher education, professional training, social capital and financial assistance, that dynamic means that many Hispanic entrepreneurs don’t even consider government contracting an option.

The same goes for cyber jobs: Inaccessibility of higher education and advanced programs is a major reason why so few Hispanics enter technology-related fields. These sectors often require specialized skills and certifications which, due to systemic inequalities, can render an expensive education a real disadvantage.

So, why should Hispanic business owners even get into this industry?

The opportunities in government contracting are nearly endless. After all, according to the White House, the federal government is the world’s largest consumer of goods and services, spending close to $600 billion per year.

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Now, more than ever, the government is trying to help minority-owned small businesses grow and compete. If you’re an established company already providing commercial cybersecurity services, think of the government as just another target market to sell into.

For founders just starting, focusing only on selling to the government can help you find your niche and establish credibility. A wealth of resources can help, even if you know very little about government contracting.

How do you get started?

Do your homework, starting with some Google searches. The government puts a ton of information online that can help familiarize you. Learn how to find open bids, respond to a proposal and fully understand the rules and regulations by which government clients abide. Once you’ve done initial market research, create a business plan, build your business credit, develop an operating agreement and establish a solid online presence.

There’s also immense value in networking and mentorship with other industry professionals. Hire a business coach and explore joint venture programs with larger organizations. If you’ve ever served in the military, use that knowledge and leverage existing relationships to move forward. Also crowdsource such professionals as your accountant, banker and attorney; These people can offer a wealth of knowledge and invaluable guidance.

Be sure to use SBA.gov, too. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is an absolute goldmine, offering myriad resources and free trainings specific to minority groups. This article from the SBA details some of the tools that Hispanic entrepreneurs can leverage.

And don’t try to sell everything to everyone. Penetrating numerous agencies from the start will only set you up for failure. Figure out what agency you want to target first based on what you do best.

What opportunities exist?

The federal government wants to award contracts to small businesses whenever possible. It currently allocates 5% of all federal contracting dollars to help small, disadvantaged businesses compete with larger, more established ones. [Editor’s note: Read our Checking the Box series for more on diversity in government contracts.] The Biden administration stands to increase that share to 15% by 2025. As a Hispanic business owner, set asides are there to help you get your foot in the government’s door. They level the playing field and give small businesses a prioritized opportunity to do business.

We greatly need more Hispanic representation in federal contracting and technology. Policies change with new administrations. But right here, right now, the federal government is providing amazing opportunities for minority business owners that cannot be ignored.

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