MissionLink adds smaller companies for second class


Decision Lens CEO John Saaty is a participant in MissionLink, which brings together CEOs at companies interested in national security work. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

MissionLink, a group established to convene national security contractor chief executives for panels and meetings with government leaders, is getting smaller this year.

Not in size — the group has 60 CEOs, just like 2011. But this year’s class is made up of more early-stage companies, many founded in the commercial world, not in government contracting. The shift is all part of an effort to bring more innovators into the fold, said Andy Lustig, one of the organization’s founders and a partner at the Reston office of the law firm Cooley.

Most companies in last year’s class produced revenue of $10 million to $500 million a year. This year, company revenue is capped at $100 million, and several participating companies generate less than $10 million annually. Instead, they offer promising technologies.

The group’s profile seems to be growing, a testament to its ability to link CEOs with current and former government leaders at monthly off-the-record panel discussions. As companies worry about shrinking federal spending, this type of access is increasingly important to top executives.

MissionLink insists on only including chief executives, not chief financial or chief operations officers. It also boasts an advisory board of former high-ranking officials at defense and intelligence agencies.

It graduated its first class last year, and this year selected 60 more CEOs from a group of more than 200 applicants.

Jeremy King, one of the group’s founders and managing partner for federal at Benchmark Executive Search, said more current and past government officials are attending the meetings this year, even if they are not panelists or moderators.

Organizers describe the sessions more as an attempt to share information than offer some an inside track to new business.

MissionLink “is not a forum where people are getting an unfair or kind of direct line into a contract,” said Kevin DeSanto, another of the group’s founders and co-founder and managing director of McLean-based investment firm KippsDeSanto.

But attendees said the group is providing connections and information they can use to build their businesses.

John Saaty, chief executive of Arlington-based Decision Lens, said the company has struggled to reach out to large integrators such as Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman.

Mission Link had a panel on the topic, which Saaty said eventually led to a high-level meeting with an integrator. “No question that came from MissionLink,” he added.

Michael Olson, chief executive at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cloudera, flies in every month for the group’s meetings. Though his company is primarily focused on commercial contracts, it has a team in Washington and Olson sees opportunities in the federal market.

“The chance to sit down with the folks shaping strategy [who] are really articulating the vision helps us think about where we should go looking for [requests for proposals], what opportunities we should be pursuing,” Olson said.

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