The name says it all. GovConnects, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce’s (HCCC) program, was created in 2012 to better connect businesses with the federal government contracting community and provide opportunities to learn more about that sector.

One company that is taking full advantage of the GovConnects program is Sparksoft, a health information technology (IT) integrator with a focus on testing services. Sparksoft helps government and private industry companies alike automate testing processes to better understand risks before implementing and “going live” with a new system or before majorly modifying an existing one.

As an example, Sparksoft was able to drastically reduce the time it was taking a client to deploy a software program. Sparksoft CEO Mike Finkel explained, “Their testing was taking up a lot of time, and they needed something that would shorten the testing cycle without compromising the quality and effectiveness of the testing. We came in and implemented our automated testing framework, ScriptHive, and drove the testing cycle down from three days to six hours,” he said. “This allowed them to release the code and fix issues in a much more agile fashion.”

History of Sparksoft

This finely-tuned operation looked much different seven years ago. Sparksoft originally was founded as a staff augmentation firm in 2004 by its president, Siva Sivaraman. In 2010, Sivaraman decided to shift from leading a resource-driven company to a service-driven one and began playing in the commercial and government markets.

Sivaraman explained, “By 2010, we had established ourselves as a reliable staff augmentation firm, and we began to look at where we saw ourselves in five years and then in 10 years.

“We took stock and realized our biggest asset was our people — each and every one is a problem-solver and are always in such demand,” she said. “Should we continue to grow along the same path, or should we take our solutioning skills directly to the health care customers we are so proud to be supporting?” she pondered.

After much deliberation and with the full support of each member of the Sparksoft team, the company shifted its focus. Despite what Sivaraman described as a “roller coaster start,” it proved to be a gamble that paid off.

“We have seen overall growth trending up, with 2017 poised to be the breakout year,” said Sivaraman.

To further assist in the strategy shift, Finkel joined the team as CEO in January 2016 to help the company pursue more contracting work as a prime company. Overall, Sivaraman described the move as a good one.

“We believe it has been a great move for the company … because by expanding our footprint in tandem with our people, we are clearly vested in the community where we all work and live,” she said.

GovConnects Membership

Since GovConnects’ inception in 2012, it has been a resource for Chamber members wanting to navigate the government contracting industry as well as have networking opportunities with key industry professionals. The Chamber is also now exploring additional government opportunities like state procurement — another plus to membership.

As for Sparksoft’s specific benefits, there seems to be a shared appreciation and value-add expressed by both Sparksoft and Chamber leadership.

“Sparksoft joined the Chamber in December of 2015 and immediately became active and engaged in the GovConnects program as well as general Chamber programming,” explained Chamber President and CEO Leonardo McClarty.

The decision to join the Chamber was a seemingly easy one for Sparksoft. “As a small, woman-owned business, active community involvement is key to getting to know people with the same mindset and work ethic, not just individuals, but businesses,” said Sivaraman.

Finkel echoed the sentiment. “The program gives us, as a small business in Howard County, an opportunity to communicate and get acquainted with many federal, state and local officials and to get an understanding of the opportunities available to us as a small business,” he said. “It also allows us to meet other small and large businesses in the area to build relationships and pursue opportunities together.”

McClarty noted, “Their CEO has been the chair of GovConnects [since 2016], represents the program on the Chamber board and has given considerable time to its events [which include] the Cyber Conference and Business Breakfast.”

The relationship-building happens through a calendar of educational and networking events hosted by the Chamber throughout the year. Activities range from executive-level networking events with regional and national federal contracting companies; to some 10 roundtable meetings with CFOs of large and small companies; to regular, two-hour breakfast sessions for networking and information-sharing called BizBreakfasts. In addition, there is an annual conference and a leadership forum for women in government contracting.

Having a Voice in the Industry

Although participating in the larger federal contracting community has been an asset, Sparksoft flourishes within the niche of health IT — a space to which GovConnects has broadened visibility.

“I have been very involved with the vision and direction of the [GovConnects] program by bringing in the voice of the health IT companies in the area and [allowing them] to cross-connect with other businesses, such as [Department of Defense]-focused companies,” said Finkel about his service as part of the GovConnects Advisory Council.

Finkel summarized the value of being part of the GovConnects program. “We as a company are here to help our customers ignite innovation as they move into the future and understand their risk posture as they create and modify systems,” he said.

“We have found great benefit being involved with the Chamber and the GovConnects program. I encourage others to join as I truly believe it helps grow your business network and find new opportunities you may not be aware of today.”