The Small and Emerging Contractors Advisory Forum (SECAF), based in McLean, will hold its 6th-Annual Government Contractor Awards Gala on May 1 at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner, uniting and recognizing businesses and assisting in their growth.
Scott Brezler, Mark Moore and Cameron Hamilton, co-chairs of this year’s gala, discussed SECAF and the awards ceremony with WashingtonExec. Brezler is a partner at Goodman & Co. LLP; Moore, the chief lending officer and executive vice president at John Marshall Bank; and Hamilton is a principal at The McLean Group. Moore and Brezler make up the awards gala committee, while Hamilton chairs SECAF’s sponsorship committee.
The co-chairs said they’re excited for the event and expect it to be the best gala yet.
WashingtonExec: Could you tell us a bit about SECAF as an organization and how it helps small businesses?
Scott Brezler: Ultimately SECAF is about helping small businesses with their growth and it does that in several different ways. It allows its members to find resources; either government representatives, other peer companies that are out there doing business or successful government contractors that may be participating in SECAF. It really gives them access to different individuals within the government contracting community.
WashingtonExec: How many years have you been involved?
Scott Brezler: I’ve been on the committee ever since it started out. Myself and Mark Moore were part of getting this initiated within SECAF and getting it started up in that initial year.
“It just keeps getting better and better. This is going to be the best one yet.”
WashingtonExec: How has everything been going with gala plans this year? What can we expect?
Scott Brezler: It’s going really well. I think this year it is going to be better than ever; we say that every year and I think it is true. We find things every year that can be done a little bit better so we are fine-tuning it. It is almost like a wedding; you think, “we should have done this a little bit better” or “this turned out well.” We get to do it over and over every year so we get to see what worked last year and what really didn’t work. Some of the processes are better such as collecting the nominations, getting the applications in, working with the people and publicizing the organization. It really is about recognizing the companies and their successes.
Mark Moore: They’ve been going beautifully in large part because of the talents of Amy [Talley of Jefferson Communications], Reggie and the folks from the SECAF administrative team and then Scott and Cameron – our brave leaders. We’ve also got a robust committee of volunteers that have had a number of cycles doing this and are bringing nice enhancements year after year. It just keeps getting better and better. This is going to be the best one yet.
WashingtonExec: How many volunteers would you say that you have?
Mark Moore: Maybe 30.
WashingtonExec: Is there anything in particular that drew you to this challenge, other than initiating and being a part of it in past years?
Scott Brezler: It really is the recognition, these companies and how gracious they are in being recognized. In doing this they think they are successful and just seeing their faces, attitudes and thankfulness is rewarding. They really are very gracious. They’ve been striving for this growth and building an organization and doing good things for their employees and it’s paying off and people are recognizing them. It’s nice to give back a little bit and see people actually enjoy that.
Cameron Hamilton: For me, this is a great opportunity to both give back to the small business community and to raise my firm’s profile in the community. Small businesses truly drive innovation, creativity and growth in this industry and with the event drawing more and more successful and growing businesses each year, their achievements deserve to be recognized.
Mark Moore: I think the best thing I can say is when you walk into the ballroom of the hotel the night of the gala and you see all of the people there — the owners of the companies, their senior teams and the professional service providers that are advisors to all of these companies — you see them having a great time together. It’s just a reminder of how close the emerging government contracting community is and how awesome it really is. When Scott and I and Cameron are up on the stage looking out at that audience, it’s one of the greatest business feelings that I know of. The energy in the room is just fantastic, just like SECAF as an organization is fantastic. It’s the best celebration of small business government contracting that I know of, period, bar none.
WashingtonExec: This is the sixth year for the gala. How has it changed over the years?
Scott Brezler: There are more people involved in the gala, and it’s about getting more brand recognition out there. We think the gala is the premier event for small government contractors and emerging government contractors. To be a finalist and to be a winner in these categories is really something that these companies cherish. They’re very gracious when we tell them that they are finalists. They are very happy with the achievement and having people recognize what they’ve achieved. I know that the pool of applicants has grown, and they are completing applications in multiple categories so that’s nice that they want to be recognized in different categories and understand they can do that.
The quality of applicants is increasing every year as well so it gets harder to pick out the top five finalists. It takes a lot of working and debating within the selection committee to really understand what sets one company above another because the competition is very steep.
Mark Moore: I was one of the original workers. I’ve had the honor and privilege of being an emcee and principal organizer of this event from the get-go, including the back-to-the-drawing-board stage. Every year it gets better and the caliber of the companies and the intensity of the competition continues to build. It’s truly remarkable that we’ve come this far in only six years.
“It’s the best celebration of small business government contracting that I know of, period, bar none.”
WashingtonExec: What stands out when you are choosing finalists, other than the qualifications that they have to meet? What puts one company above the next?
Scott Brezler: Every year and in every category it is a different discussion because of the diversity of the clients. A lot of it is what they have done to date but also how they have positioned themselves for the future. What they’ve done to date really has given them the growth but do we as a committee see it positioning them for an increase in growth going forward? That is what we look at.
Also, we look at how they take care of their employees and what they give back to the community and government contracting industry overall. Who are their competitors? What are their core capabilities? What sets them apart? What are they doing in their niche area that’s really interesting? Those are some of the things that we look at overall.
WashingtonExec: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time when you are not working?
Scott Brezler: Sports — coaching and watching my children’s games. I have twins that are nine — one boy and one girl. They are involved in everything. I have found it rewarding to coach my son in baseball and my daughter in soccer, and help out and see the kids learning – it’s a lot of fun, and more fun than I thought it would be. I thought it would be a struggle to get these kids to listen; we do have those issues but it’s a lot of fun too.
WashingtonExec: How can small businesses best approach growth and sustainability challenges?
Scott Brezler: A lot of it is about relationships and leveraging organizations like SECAF. I think SECAF can really help organizations if they have a growth initiative. Probably within a few conversations with SECAF and its members, the board of directors could find somebody that could help them with their current initiative, whether it is a new client, a new capability or a new government agency they are trying to get into. They can find access or probably a name or a connection through that, so it’s leveraging a lot of their relationships and connections to finding new clients or business.
All of it really gets down to quality of service, being able to provide and bring solutions to the government. It’s solutions — both technical solutions and solutions in saving them money or discovering more efficient ways of doing things, taking a contract that had 20 people on it and being able to do it with 15 people by creating efficiencies and using technologies. Those are the types of things they are going to have to do to really sustain the growth in this environment nowadays.
Cameron Hamilton: By focusing on their core capabilities. Start with doing one thing exceptionally well and other competencies will grow out of that brought on through customer demand. Secondly, utilizing the power of the mentors and networks within the small business community provides a real opportunity to learn from others and to identify best practices and avoid common mistakes.
WashingtonExec: Is there a certain company that won an award six years ago and benefitted from SECAF and the gala, that you would highlight?
Scott Brezler: Indus has been a personal sponsor and volunteer for the organization. I know it has benefitted greatly from that and the value in providing that for the emerging companies that are out there. The company learned in going through the 8(a) program and now have grown outside of that, becoming larger.
Cameron Hamilton: InCadence, led by its CEO Sandra Corbett, is a true SECAF success story. The company won in 2011 for Government Contractor of the Year (under $6m) and in 2013 for Government Contractor of the Year ($6-12m).
Mark Moore: Yes, there are many examples of companies that are prototypical of success stories that would attribute a lot of their success to being involved with SECAF and the resources that we offer.