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Air Force Veteran Secures IT Systems with SBA’s Help
Giovanni Suarez has always been entrepreneurial, but it was his military experience that made the difference when he decided to strike out on his own. He had been working for large defense contractor when he noticed the small business requirements the company needed to fulfill. That observation, coupled with his unique capabilities, industry certification, and appropriate security clearances, coalesced into the idea to start his own business-- National Information Assurance Corporation (dba NIACORP)-- offering information assurance, communications security, and operational support primarily to the federal government and national defense organizations.
As early as age six or seven, Mr. Suarez sold fruit from his grandfather’s farm, cleaned cars and helped his mother sell her baked goods just to have his own money. A member of a large family, he always looked for ways to have funds of his own and was willing to work hard to accomplish his goals. His parents say that even as a young child, he was always a leader, one who took initiative, and led others to succeed. Small wonder he eventually became an entrepreneur.
But before launching off on his own in 2005, Mr. Suarez joined the U.S. Air Force in 1991 where he served active duty until 1997. There, he learned many of the technical skills he would later use in his business. Still, today, he values and appreciates more “the structure, leadership, and other hard and soft skills [military service provides that] you just don’t get in an institution, college, or university.” He went on to serve an additional two years on the Georgia Air National Guard.
When he left the military, he worked as an Assistant Webmaster contractor for the C-130 System Program Office at Robins AFB. Because the web-based databases had to be secured, Mr. Suarez, a natural self-starter, started buying IT security books to learn how to secure the systems. A year later he was offered a network administrator position for the F-15 System Program Office supporting the F-15 Radar Engineering Organization. “That is where I truly learned the security niche.”
He found his niche in the marketplace while working on contract proposals for Raytheon, a large defense contractor. As Mr. Suarez read the small business subcontracting requirements, he realized he possesses the knowledge and skills to perform the work needed. Federal government contracts require prime contractors use small firms as subcontractors. Plus, “I also wanted to be my own boss and not depend on someone else to dictate my future and well-being of my family.”
But it wasn’t enough to have the technical and interpersonal skills and the drive to succeed in business; Mr. Suarez needed the infrastructure, too. “The challenges I had to overcome, because I lacked formal business experience, were the ones setting up the backbone of the company: payroll, benefits, taxes, etc. Later, I also needed help with strategies to expand my business." He largely attributes his success to his Office Manager, Mrs. Maryellen Mailhiot, who was instrumental in addressing the challenges NIACORP overcame; and to his technical staff for the outstanding performance, giving NIACORP its current reputation.
To get his business off the ground, he went to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website where he used the start-up checklists. Then, he engaged the high-quality expertise of the Certified Business Analysts at the Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida in Tampa who helped him develop strategies and steps to put together his business. In 2005 when he decided to enter the federal marketplace, his first stop was to the Procurement Technical Assistance Center at USF’s SBDC where he learned the nuts and bolts of federal government contracting as well as its nuances.
Thanks to the PTAC, NIACORP is in the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program where he competes for federal contracts. With help from the SBA and the Small Business Development Center, Mr. Suarez has grown his business from a one-man operation in 2005 to employing 23 full-time employees and sales of nearly $2M in 2011. Still, he cautions that federal contracting and the 8(a) program don’t ensure “easy money.” “On the contrary, the 8(a) program has helped me more after I performed well and established a strong relationship with federal agencies with real requirements. Once the trust exists, the chance to win a sole-source contract becomes easier.”
While he says starting and growing his business has been at times frustrating and tiresome, he acknowledges that some of his success is due in part to having an outstanding reputation as a diligent hard worker. He has been recognized for his good work in securing organization systems by the local chapter of The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) and he was nominated and awarded the SBA’s 2012 Veteran Small Business Champion of the Year for the South Florida District.
His aspirations and goals for his business are to “continue ‘managed’ growth for NIACORP and make it even more successful. I strongly believe my staff and I share the same vision to continue providing the most secure communications systems to our armed forces that exceed our national security goals.”
When asked “how did you do it?” his reply is always the same: “get help from the SBA! They have always been there for me.”