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Chicago consulting firm emerges stronger after completing 8(a) Business Development program

Lynn Sutton and SBA staff

The Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program helps small disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace and access government contracts. Participation in the program is divided into two phases over nine years: a four-year developmental stage and a five-year transition stage. When companies graduate, business owners are equipped with skills and strategies that will help them continue to thrive outside of the program.

Lynn Sutton of Kairos Worldwide, a recent 8(a) program graduate, is celebrating her company’s growth while looking ahead to the next chapter. Before joining the program, Kairos Worldwide had one employee; now, it has 20.

“Seeing the difference we make in the lives of the people we work with – both clients and employees – is the best part,” Sutton said.

Kairos Worldwide was born in 2004. Sutton, who grew up on Chicago’s West Side and graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a degree in industrial engineering, had a 14-year corporate career with Andersen Consulting (Accenture) and Kraft Foods before taking the leap into entrepreneurship.

“I had come to the place where I understood my unique contribution,” she said. “I had developed the reputation for building the business case for process change. Starting Kairos was very much an answer to a calling.”

Taking the first step was difficult, but made easier by working with the Women’s Business Development Center and the SBA, both of which provided tools and assistance to help Sutton launch her endeavor. Eventually, the small business liaison for the Department of Energy recommended she look into the 8(a) program.

“He suggested that our corporate experience might be the perfect preparation for federal contracting,” Sutton said. “The greatest impact of the 8(a) program was the opportunity to identify and solidify sole-source opportunities.”

Indeed, over nine years, the firm was awarded five sole-source contracts, worth more than $10 million in revenues. As Kairos Worldwide grew, accessing capital was sometimes a challenge. In fact, the greatest of these challenges came at the award of their first federal contract – with the US Navy. The solution came out of the small business community, as a fellow business owner and mentor stepped in and cosigned a loan for them.

“Since then, we have established a long-term relationship with a bank that has been a true partner, extending the lines of credit we have needed to grow,” Sutton said. “We have also found an accounting team that helps us to better manage our resources and forecast more accurately.”

Sutton looks forward to expanding on the growth and experience gained through the 8(a) program to position Kairos as a strategic consulting partner in their target industries, energy and health care. She also advises other business owners to take advantage of the free services available to assist them, as she did.

“Go through the programs offered by your local agencies,” Sutton said. “Take every opportunity to listen to those business owners who have been where you are trying to go.”


Photo: Lynn Sutton, second from left, stopped by SBA's Illinois District office to say thanks for the nine years’ worth of training, support, and friendship she received from the Business Development team. From left, Business Opportunity Specialist Don Pellico, Sutton, Supervisory Business Opportunity Specialist Rosalyn Putman, and Columbus District Director Rick Garcia.

Company Name: 
Kairos Worldwide
Chicago, Illinois