Hutch is gearing up for its fifth cohort.
The Baltimore incubator, founded by Downtown software company Fearless, supports civic tech startups working in the area of digital services for the federal government. That includes helping them take advantage of the wealth of programs focused on evening the playing field for minority-owned businesses seeking to win those federal contracts.
Programs such as the US Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program and Department of Transportation Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program allow small, minority-owned businesses to get their foot in the door with state and local level government contracts and funding options. Think of them like TSA PreCheck— once you’re in, the line to government contracts shortens. But when seeking these certifications, the tough work comes at the beginning, and require the government going through two years of your books.
Terry Bazemore Jr., a Hutch graduate and the cofounder of cybersecurity company Ey3 Technologies, told Technical.ly he wouldn’t have been able to navigate the application process without the support of Hutch. There’s not a lot of information on the documents a company needs to gather — or in some cases, create — to successfully make it through the process, he said.
“Over the 8(a) process, it’s like they want your kidney size,” Bazemore joked. “There’s so much information that has to be shared about you as an individual and your company. They’re trying to vet you to make sure you’ll have success coming out of this program and to make sure you’re not a shell company trying to get into the program.”
The 8(a) isn’t a silver bullet. Getting the certification doesn’t mean federal contracts just fall in a company’s lap. Bazemore explained it as getting a gym membership: The membership card alone doesn’t mean get you muscles. You have to put in the work.
“We’re looking at the [8(a)] as an opportunity for us to showcase our capabilities to the world and our customers,” Bazemore said. “The 8(a) is just a bonus.”
Navigating the requirements, classifications and budget approvals of the public sector is a different beast than the private sector where you can make a minimum viable product and let the market decide. With Hutch, across 24 months, cohort members attend monthly sessions on topics such as procurement, civic engagement and strategic planning.
The incubator has begun looking for the next 10 companies to be a part of the cohort. Companies don’t have to be based in Baltimore, but the program will take place in person on location at Spark Baltimore.
Applications will be accepted beginning Sept. 1, and must be submitted no later than Sept. 30. All applicants are required to attend at least one information session.
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.