1st American Systems and Services was ranked as 155th fastest growing company in the nation by Inc. CEO and President Alpa Shah credits the firm’s fast rise to its participation in U.S. Small Business Administration programs.
“The SBA’s 7j program is one of the best initiatives SBA has undertaken,” says Shah.
The firm is part of SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program , which helps small, disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. Section 7(j) refers to the language in the Small Business Act that authorizes SBA to enter into grants, cooperative agreements or contracts, with public or private organizations that can deliver management or technical assistance to eligible individuals and enterprises.
Alpa Shah, CEO and President
From its humble beginnings in 2009 with no government past performance, 1st American today has about 50 employees and successful past performance on more than 25 government contracts. 1st American’s clients include the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Interior, National Guard, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and The Pentagon.
Part of 1st American’s success is due to its ability to be a trusted partner to each of its federal government clients. For example, 1st American has been continuously supporting the National Guard since its first small contract in 2009, and has grown to be one its preferred small business partners that they call upon to support multiple aspects of their mission. 1st American was also the only company that received seven of the eight contracts awarded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to help with national standards relating to healthcare Information Exchange, Interoperability, e-Prescribing, Clinical Results Reporting, Quality Reporting, Data Architecture, and Bio-Surveillance. Since 2012, 1st American has supported the FAA Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) initiatives that will transform America’s air traffic control system, reduce traffic delays, increase capacity, and permit controllers to monitor and manage aircraft with greater safety margins. 1st American’s innovative solutions helped train over 15,000 FAA Air Traffic Controllers
The U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce awarded 1st American its 2012 Most Innovative Company prize.
Shah credits her SBA Business Opportunity Specialist Lorraine Scott with helping 1st American grow more successful. “Scott sends ‘Tips of Day’ emails to all the business in her portfolio, which provide short but timely and useful information to the business owners,” says Shah. “The topics are varied and range from templates for Mentor-Protégé submissions, the importance of taking the time to write a good marketing plan and follow it, to sending a holiday card that is designed for ‘Your Business’ instead of store bought.” Shah says she reads all of Scott’s emails and benefits from the content, but the best part of the tips in the email format is that they can be read at any time when she is free, usually at 1 a.m. in the morning, after her proposals are sent, employees paid, or the latest fire addressed.
Overall, Shah contributes the success of the firm to being in the 8(a) program, but advises new firms to have realistic expectations before going through the certification process. “Getting an 8(a) certificate does not automatically convert into revenue generation. Hard work, innovation and performance, and always delivering what you promise to the client is the key to ultimate success in Government contracting. SBA and the 8(a) certificate is a valuable resource organizations can leverage to accelerate growth, only if every other ingredient is also present.”
Restaurateur Constantine Stavropoulos would be a good candidate to be the poster boy of SBA. Before starting Tryst in Adams Morgan in 1998, he did his homework at the small business development center at SBA’s old headquarters on Vermont Avenue. There he picked out materials on entrepreneurship, financing and how to write a business plan. Using a 7(a) loan he opened a coffeehouse/bar/lounge/restaurant. The business was so successfully, he launched The Diner (24/7 diner/bar) in Adams Morgan in 2001, Open City in 2005, Tryst at The Phillips in the spring of 2012 and The Coupe in the fall. For his latest venture, he made sure that his SBA loans included the air rights to the ground floor space in the building that houses his restaurant. The Coupe in Columbia Heights is open 'round the clock, every day.
“I am the No. 1 fan of the SBA 504 loan, which provides financing for major fixed assets such as equipment or real estate," he said. “I didn’t have to tie my personal assets to this loan.” In addition, he got a 7(a) loan for additional inventory and equipment.
“People love great food and adore coffee," he explained. "My goal is to be the best coffeehouse. Starbucks may have introduced people to the terms espressos and cappuccinos but we show them what they should really taste like."
"I would like to educate people about coffee and encourage others to open their own coffeehouses. The market for people who appreciated good coffee was small 15 years ago. As more people become coffee connoisseurs, the better the local coffee gets,” he said. The coffee, often made by award-winning baristas, is served with signature animal crackers.
Each of his restaurants has a unique name corresponding to the location. "The Coupe is a fun coffeehouse, bar and restaurant," he said. “It’s a play on words. For example, a chicken coop is something that holds everyone together. Coupe is also the name of the flat champagne glass and a French dessert plate. The Coupe is that third place where people can come relax and enjoy the place. You can use it as your own space to meet others or be by yourself. When we opened Tryst, people poured in. The Internet changed everyone’s working patterns and stretched the day to 24/7.”
What’s next for him? He employs more than 400 workers at his restaurants but is always looking for good workers. Because he can’t find the skilled labor he needs for his restaurants, he’s thinking of creating a training school to teach workers how to be line cooks and servers.
The Coupe’s Executive Chef Rob Theriot and restaurant owner Constantine Stavropoulos at the Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C., restaurant.
SunTrust Bank's Deric Mims helped structure the loan for True Communications. True Comm President Stephen Libonate accepts the big check from Mims and SBA's Antonio Doss, District Director (Acting).
True Communications, a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB), recently received a $4.288 million dollar SBA loan from SunTrust Bank. Based in Dulles, Va., the firm's customers include Verizon, AT&T, Veterans Affairs, the IRS, and the FAA. True Comm is a certified partner with Cisco, NEC, Hewlett Packard, Sprint and T-Mobile. The company is an integrator of leading edge IP based Voice, Video and Data technologies specializing in the design and delivery of both wired and wireless technologies including Voice over Internet Protocol, Wireless Data delivery, Tele-Medicine and Energy Automation.
With a desire to hire about 180 new employees and to buy equipment, True Communications needed working capital to facilitate company growth. They considered a conventional $1 million Line of Credit to replace the current factoring resource. Although the company had a competent and experienced management team and strong cash flow, because they lacked sufficient collateral, they had a hard time getting the capital they needed. True Comm saw the SBA solution as an attractive alternative to the Private Equity Market. SunTrust provided $3.5 million in permanent working capital plus another half million to pay off two notes from a private equity source. At the check presentation, Stephen Libonate the President of True Communications Inc., said “The financial resource provided with this working capital allows True Comm to compete and expand in the ever growing technology market place.” SunTrust's Adam Winder, Commercial Relationship Manager assisted with the loan, which was structured with a 9-month interest-only period to allow the company to draw down funds as needed. Once the interest-only period expires the outstanding balance will be repaid over 7 years. This structure would not have been possible in a conventional loan. The fact that the majority of the collateral is outside of the SunTrust footprint added to the challenges. All said, the SBA loan will enable the company to reach the growth goals it has set for itself while creating much needed jobs.