If there is a message you take away from a conversation with Mr. Curtis Whitten, President and CEO of VendTech Enterprise, LLC, it is to do your research and due diligence.
A native of Jacksonville (FL), Curtis Whitten began his journey to success as a highly recruited high school football player who excelled as a defensive back while playing at Wichita State University. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice at Wichita State, he attended the FBI Training Academy in Quantico (VA) and was one of the few African-American minority graduates of the academy at the time. He then pursued a career as an investigator with the U.S. Department of Justice through the Drug Enforcement Administration.
After two decades of security and investigative work in both the private and government sector, serving across corrections and justice departments throughout Kansas, Whitten took a leap of faith by starting his own business. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” said Whitten. “Also, there were no minority-owned security contractors in the area, so I was motivated when I started VendTech Enterprise.” he continued.
In 1999, Whitten started a sole proprietorship called VendTech Enterprise that provided facilities support, vending and security services to some commercial and governmental organizations. “I started out as a one-man operation, and did everything from the paperwork to being a security guard,” said Whitten. His first government contract was with the City of Wichita. Whitten also provided services to some commercial accounts, including a large construction company and a nonprofit housing organization.
Whitten applied and was accepted into the SBA’s 8(a) business development program in 2005. The 8(a) program is a nine year commitment that helps socially and economically disadvantaged firms develop their business to grow and succeed. Although the 8(a) program does not guarantee sole source federal contracts, the certification can be advantageous when operating within the federal contracting arena. “The SBA’s 8(a) program gave me the support and contracting opportunities that helped me grow the business,” said Whitten.
Whitten had about 5 employees when he incorporated VendTech Enterprise, LLC in 2005. His analytical skills, dedication to doing extensive research, and his experience helped him grow VendTech’s portfolio of services to include risk management and construction support services, while building on the company’s bread and butter, armed and unarmed security services. Today, VendTech Enterprise, LLC is a multimillion dollar firm with operations throughout the Midwest and the East Coast.
Curtis Whitten believes in due diligence and cultivating good relationships with clients. “You need to do as much research as possible before signing a contract,” said Whitten. “Find out all the details related to the scope of work and the needs of the customer. Then, make sure you honor your word, and cultivate good relationships with vendors and the contracting officers.”
In 2014, Curtis Whitten participated in SBA’s Emerging Leaders program hosted by the Wichita District Office. The seven month course helped Curtis develop a long-term strategic growth plan for VendTech, and it also opened the door to a new network of business owners and professionals here in Wichita. “I really enjoyed learning and sharing with others in the class,” said Whitten.
When asked to give advice to anyone looking to expand their business through government contracting, Whitten commented that contracting can be risky if you don’t put in the research. “You may leave money on the table, or bite-off more than you can chew if you don’t put in the due diligence”, said Whitten.