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'Fast 50' Finding Success in Niches

By Roseanne Gerin
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, October 16, 2006

Advice from the fastest-growing small businesses in government contracting: Pick your specialty and stay with it.

"We made a conscious business decision and then said 'This is what we're going to do,' " said Rose Wang, founder and chief executive of Binary Consulting Inc. of Bethesda.

Wang worked in Silicon Valley for several years before moving east to launch her entrepreneurial career. At first, she had what she calls a "rent-a-CTO" practice serving large and small companies. But that changed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

She reacted quickly, narrowing the company's offerings to strategic advisory services for government decision makers and giving up systems integration work.

"I don't know how many times I've been told that's crazy, but the market has completely rewarded us," said Wang, 37, a native of China who came to the United States when she was 21.

Binary Consulting, which specializes in work for Pentagon agencies, expects revenue of close to $20 million this year, compared with $13 million in 2005, Wang said.

That boom in revenue ranked it No. 8 on Washington Technology magazine's annual Fast 50 list, a report on the fastest-growing small businesses providing information technology services to government at the federal, state and local levels.

(The top 10 companies can be found in the accompanying chart. The full list and a complete report on the small-business landscape can be found at http://www.washingtontechnology.com .)

Like Wang, other Fast 50 executives caution that small businesses should avoid taking every government job that comes along.

"There's almost a desperate need to just accept any kind of business to stay afloat, and sometimes that has short-term rewards, but long-term, it's just very difficult," said Olayinka Sage, founder, present and chief executive of e-Management Inc. of Silver Spring. The company, ranked No. 28, provides IT strategic planning and management, information security, Web applications and services and managed network services to the government.

"We don't chase work even if it's easy to get or low-hanging fruit," said William Loftus, 42, co-founder, president and chief executive of Gestalt LLC of Fairfax. "We're extremely focused on the industries we're playing in, and we want to get deeper into those industries."

Gestalt, No. 4 on the Fast 50, provides consulting services and technology solutions to the defense, energy and utility sectors. Its 2006 revenue is likely to be $34 million with profit of around $3.4 million, Loftus said.

Alfredo Casta, a native of Puerto Rico who worked at the Labor Department for 10 years, started Cascades Technologies Inc. in 1998. Initially, he did Web design and hosting, software product sales and some systems development work for clients in both the government and commercial sectors.

In 2002, when the Herndon company got its certification under the Small Business Administration's 8(a) program and won a place on the General Services Administration's contracting schedule, Casta consolidated its offerings to focus solely on government clients. He sold off the Web design and hosting part of the business because, he said, other companies were doing it better than his. He also ditched product sales.

"The systems development and applications development areas were driving the business, so we consolidated efforts into one area where we could grow a degree of expertise and compete well," Casta said.

This year Casta expects $7 million in revenue and profit of $350,000 to $490,000 for Cascades Technologies, which is No. 36 on the Fast 50 list. The Labor Department accounts for 60 percent of the company's revenue.

Roseanne Gerin is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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