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3 ways to help drive innovation across the government and military

The allure of selling solutions to the federal government and military is strong for entrepreneurial technology startups and innovative growth companies. Not only does the U.S. government have a significant budget set aside for innovative projects, but it also allows companies to contribute to a larger mission and purpose. These opportunities are particularly exciting for former government employees who have transitioned from the public to the private sector but still want to help their country.

Unfortunately, the list of challenges startup companies face when attempting to sell to government agencies and military services is long and well-documented. The arduous, drawn-out, and labor-intensive procurement and budgeting processes can be complex for small companies to navigate. These types of obstacles have led to some emerging growth companies running out of runway, as the cost to pursue government contracts and tweak their solutions to meet government requirements eats into revenue and profitability.

There is a reason why the process of selling to the government is often (half) jokingly referred to as “crossing the valley of death.” The journey is long, expensive, and onerous, and not every company that attempts it survives.

This phrase is where the recently launched “Crossing the Valley” podcast took inspiration for its name. The show, hosted by Front Door Defense’s Noah Sheinbaum, interviews the CEOs and industry leaders who have either navigated this process successfully or are thriving in the journey.

One of the show’s recent guests was Ari Schuler, a former technology leader at U.S. Customs and Border Protection who is now successfully guiding the technology company goTenna across the valley.

During his discussion with Noah, Ari shared three important tips for government agencies and military organizations looking to actively drive more innovation by working with growth-oriented technology startups. Here are our three main takeaways and tips from goTenna’s CEO, Ari Schuler.

1. Stitch together those that say “yes”
Within each government agency, there are numerous individuals or offices that need to approve a program or project. They might be those responsible for procuring budget dollars, those responsible for data security or data privacy, or those that issue an Authority to Operate (ATO).

Ari suggests that technologists who want to make a more seamless experience for technology startups can identify these individuals within their organization. Once identified, technologists can then build relationships with these individuals while also building a reputation for competence and doing good work.


By “stitching together” the individuals required to fund and approve projects, technologists can help startups focus more of their time and energy on getting their products into the hands of operators, gathering feedback, and incorporating that feedback into their product designs.

“[This] doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want, you have to do quality work,” Ari explained. “But [pulling those individuals together will] give startups a seamless experience so that they can focus on interacting with your operators and getting them what they need.”

2. Enable startups to get integrated and access data
Ari stresses that one of the most vital steps for startups looking to work with the government is to get the solution into the hands of the people who will be using it in the field. These tactical operators can provide valuable feedback to make the product a better and more comprehensive solution for their requirements. These individuals can also act as brand advocates, championing products to senior leaders and decision-makers.

While goTenna is a product company that can quickly and easily get its solutions into the hands of operators for feedback, that’s not always the case for other solution providers. Some of today’s hottest technologies, including AI solutions, require access to actual organization data to train models and demonstrate their capabilities.


For this reason, Ari recommends that technologists within the government work hard to give technology startups what they need to train their models, deploy their solutions, or otherwise demonstrate the value of their technologies. Whether this is access to data sets that can be used to train AI models or sandboxes for network infrastructure, having the ability to truly demonstrate the capabilities of their technology to the people who will be using it is one of the most valuable things for technology startups looking to sell to the government.

As Ari explained, “The biggest thing besides money is getting real user feedback.”

3. Innovative funding for innovation
We’ve discussed the difficulty many technology startups have faced when competing for and winning government and military contracts. To help alleviate this burden and drive more innovation within government supply chains, some military services have implemented innovative new funding programs designed to help small technology companies design and develop essential solutions and bring them to production.

Relatively new funding programs, including the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, have been game-changing for startup technology companies. These programs provide funding for growth companies with innovative ideas, giving them the time and dollars needed to bring them to bear for the government.


However, even with SBIR funding, companies can run out of money and face the end of their runway before scaling up and delivering a solution for the military. This is why the introduction of the Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) and Tactical Funding Increase (TACFI) programs has been instrumental. These programs effectively extend the runway for innovative technology startups to begin scaling their solutions and offerings.

“…if you are smart and use those funds wisely, it’s a great way to cross the valley of death,” Ari said. “It is not a guarantee you will get a Phase III [award]…but it is buying you time and buying you an opportunity to continue to refine your product in a way that supports the government mission.”

Implementing innovative funding programs like SBIR and STRATFI is essential to increasing innovation in government supply chains and making it easier to work with exciting technology startups.

Interested in hosting a goTenna demo at your facility? Contact goTenna HERE.

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The Author

Alex Goin

Alex Goin

Alex Goin is a Staff Writer for The Last Mile, alongside a steadily growing list of other online trade publications focused on communications solutions, government technology, and cybersecurity. When she's not writing, she spends her free time educating thousands on lizard care, hanging out with her five lizards, animating, and going to EDM festivals.

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