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Still driven to serve, Air Force veteran provides clients with technology solutions

Vasquez family

Southern Illinois-based Competitive Range Solutions started in 2011 as an information technology commodity-based business. Owner Noah Vasquez focused on leveraging relationships to make hardware and software sales. Revenue was coming in, but the company’s margins weren’t great. Vasquez knew that something needed to change.

“Our business model did not support sustained growth objectives,” he said. “We weren’t doing anything groundbreaking; we did what we could with what we had, but it simply wasn’t enough.”

The solution: move the company into value-added technology solutions and support services. After becoming certified in 2013 in the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program, which offers assistance to firms owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, CRS diversified its revenue portfolio and embraced a more sustainable business model. Turning down business opportunities was at times painful for the company, Vasquez says, but he prioritized long-term benefits over short-term gains.

“We’re a mission partner,” said Vasquez, a service-disabled Air Force veteran and Chicago native. “Our employees understand my customers, the landscape, and the risks they face. It’s a better company.”

The 8(a) certification has helped CRS transform and expand, with the company now occupying offices in Illinois, St. Louis, and the D.C. metro area. The company has worked with the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Transportation Command, among others, and last year alone secured contracts worth about $7 million.

Born to Dominican immigrants, Vasquez has followed an atypical career path and absorbed valuable lessons along the way. He was homeless as a teenager but credits an inner-city outreach ministry with turning his life around. After earning his GED and becoming a banker, he joined the Air Force, spending six years in active duty and three years as a contracting officer. During his time in service, he deployed to Iraq and earned both a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University in Chicago and an MBA from Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. Reflecting on his service and facing the possibility of sequestration in 2011, Vasquez left the government hoping to establish the most value-added veteran-owned IT company in the market, and from this CRS emerged.

Veterans such as Vasquez own more than 2.45 million businesses nationwide, capitalizing on the flexibility, discipline and leadership skills they gained in service. Vasquez, in particular, found that his years as an Air Force civil engineer and contracting officer provided a strong knowledge base for his work with the government. The opportunity to continue to give back was also appealing. 

“I couldn’t think of my professional life outside of service to my country,” he said. “I realized I can’t go back to Baghdad, but I can continue to serve as a small business mission partner. This is my future. Accomplishing the mission always has and will continue to have a high standard. Our government benefits from partnering with its veterans, who often not only understand, but have lived the requirement. That’s why I’m attracted to this market.”

Looking forward, CRS hopes to continue to serve both government and commercial clients as well as negotiate strategic partnerships as they strive to define – and evolve – their durable competitive advantage. Although 8(a) certification has certainly helped the company expand, Vasquez notes, “The program is meant to support and augment an existing small business and not to be the primary source of its subsistence.” In other words, the rules of good business still apply. Hard work and smart strategy are required to get ahead.

Absolute certainty, however, is not required to take the leap into entrepreneurship. Vasquez advises other small business owners to listen to their fears and doubts, and use them to propel their companies forward. 

“It takes a special person to start a company. One of the things I’ve learned to do is to control and leverage my fears to derive a positive outcome,” he said. “In those moments of desperation, you find your greatness.”

Company Name: 
Competitive Range Solutions
Location: 
Mascoutah, IL