Founded in 2010, International Steel & Counterweights (ISC) is a steel service center that specializes in providing customers with low cost, quality steel fabrications for use as counterweights, fabrications, weldments, and steel supply. Their mission is to provide the highest-quality products utilizing low-cost raw materials. As such, they are the leading producer of counterweights made from steel, lead, and other metals.
After finding success in the government market early on, the company leveraged the resources and knowledge of the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU, at the time known as the Mahoning Valley PTAC, to grow the company’s government procurement sales. Most recently, Patrick Chesterton, government point of contact for ISC, engaged the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU’s assistance with a couple issues standing between them and a successful bid.
Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU worked with Patrick to quickly resolve both issues. The first issue was a simple IRS validation error preventing the company’s System for Award Management renewal. Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU walked Patrick through the SAM renewal process over the phone. With the IRS validation error resolved and the company’s SAM account renewed for another year, Joseph then switched gears to assist Patrick with the evolving cybersecurity requirements, which apply to Department of Defense contractors.
Patrick was bidding on a Defense Logistics Agency contract for crane testing weights. He had submitted a successful bid and was waiting for the award decision when he learned that the contract could not be awarded until ISC submitted their cybersecurity self-assessment score. This was a new requirement for DoD contractors, which was implemented mere months prior. Everyone, including contract officers and Patrick, were scrambling to keep up with the change.
Although the contract officer attempted to explain this new requirement, Patrick was still unsure of what the new DFARS clauses required of him. Per DFARS 252.204-7019, DoD contractors need to submit their cybersecurity self-assessments, which assesses a company’s implementation of NIST 800-171 cybersecurity controls (which is required under DFARS 252.204-7012), into the Supplier Performance Risk System (SPRS). Under normal business standards, that was a confusing requirement; however, a potential contract was now on the line. That made everything even more confounding.
Through a virtual meeting, the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU explained the DFARS clauses and developed a plan of action for Patrick to successfully submit his self-assessment score into the SPRS portal. They shared some resources from a past webinar he had hosted that made conducting the cybersecurity self-assessment significantly easier. Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU also shared step-by-step instructions for Patrick to navigate the SPRS portal and upload ISC’s score himself.
“Cybersecurity is a growing concern for all businesses, but especially for those within the defense supply chain,” says the Director of Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU. “I’m glad that we were able to help Patrick quickly resolve the situation.”
Following the successful submittal of the cybersecurity self-assessment score, International Steel and Counterweights was successfully awarded an over $400,000 DLA contract. “It is a source of pride for the team at ISC to support our service women and men, through the DLA,” Patrick says. “We were extremely grateful for the support and excellent counsel of the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU not only for this bid, but in positioning our business for other government opportunities.”
Founded in 2016, Engineered Products of Ohio, LLC. (EPI) is a technology manufacturing company that custom designs Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags for challenging environments. EPI works with their customers to develop and integrate RFID technology like gateways, readers, and endpoint integrated circuits.
EPI is an expert in the field of incorporating RFID technology into unique applications throughout a broad variety of industries. With great commercial success, EPI considered expanding into the government market. EPI identified and responded to a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) opportunity with AFWERX through the Air Force Research Laboratory.
After being awarded the Phase I SBIR, Justine Blank, EPI’s Vice President/RFID Solution Architect, met virtually with the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU Director to discuss the SBIR opportunity and how to leverage it for future opportunities. They discussed various aspects of being a DoD contractor, including the evolving cybersecurity requirements that also apply to SBIR awards. Beyond the focused one-on-one counseling, the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU also assisted Blank in identifying interest within Air Force stakeholders for the innovation EPI was developing through the Phase I award. This assistance and research augmented additional support EPI was receiving from Parallax, specifically the APEX Initiative.
The Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU helped EPI refine their capabilities and project pitch, preparing them to network effectively with Air Force stakeholders. EPI’s successful networking and, most importantly, their excellent performance on the Phase I award positioned EPI to win a nearly $750,000 Phase II award from the Air Force. The Phase II award will allow EPI to bring life to their innovation, and prepare them to transition into future government successes.
“As experts in embedded RFID, we have been very successful in the non-government space, but as we began our research into bringing our technology to the DoD, we found that the commercial and military customers are VERY different.” Blank says. “While they both purchase goods & track assets, they are worlds apart in how they operate. As a new AFWERX accelerated SBIR/STTR awardee, we were fortunate enough to have the guidance of the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU to help rapidly immerse us into learning the nuances of transitioning to a military supplier partner. We literally had to learn how to speak the language (acronyms) and adapt to our current business practices to meet the needs of the US War Fighter. Without this assistance, we would not have been as successful or as nimble to respond and win our first Phase I and Phase II sole source contracts.”
Personal Protected, LLC was born from Hitch-Hiker Manufacturing and the COVID-19 crisis. Both companies are owned and operated by Jeff and Holly Swartz. Over the past 52 years, Hitch-Hiker Manufacturing has become the premier concession trailer manufacturer for the Food and Amusement industry. In Spring 2020, they saw the abrupt end to new orders and all in progress orders were postponed as COVID-19 restrictions caused fairs, festivals, and gatherings across the country to be canceled. Jeff and Holly began to strategize different ways to pivot and adapt their business to meet the new needs of their clients and the community. It was during one of the Ohio Governor’s COVID-19 daily updates that Jeff used his 35 years of knowledge to develop the idea of creating a touchless, high-volume hand washing station that allows four users to safely wash their hands at once while remaining socially distanced. Initially, the Quad-Sink was constructed to provide safe conditions for the outdoor amusement industry and to help get it back on track, but the device turned into something more when Jeff and Holly began seeing a demand for the product in universities, schools, and other industries. Jeff and Holly took a leap of faith and established Personal Protected, LLC, transitioning their entire business model of manufacturing mobile concession trailers to manufacturing portable high-volume hand washing stations.
Personal Protected, LLC was able to transition all 20 of their employees so they did not lose their jobs. They had quickly found success with Youngstown State University and wanted to expand to other state universities and school districts. Having been in the private sector their entire career, Jeff and Holly wanted to make sure they entered the government marketplace the right way. After finalizing their first sales through Youngstown State University, Jim Tressel, President of YSU, introduced Jeff and Holly to the services of the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU that is part of YSU’s Williamson College of Business Administration. Jeff and Holly met with the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU who helped them create a strategy to market themselves in the government sector while connecting them with opportunities with local agencies in Ohio.
The Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU guided them through the SAM registration process and helped them craft their capability statement. The organization’s continued assistance enabled Personal Protected, LLC to successfully navigate the procurement process and enter a new market. The resources and connections provided by the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU enabled Personal Protected, LLC to find promising contract opportunities with government entities not only in Ohio, but throughout the country. The Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU equipped Jeff and Holly for their first Ohio Matchmaker and Tri-State Matchmaker events, which proved to be successful networking opportunities for their company. Since working with the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU, Personal Protected, LLC has experienced new opportunities being an integral single-source supplier for universities and K-12 school districts through the state of Ohio. With the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU’s assistance, the company has been able to secure nearly one million dollars in contracts within the past year from Youngstown State University, Bowling Green State University, Mahoning County Commissioners Office, City of Youngstown, OH, and other organizations.
“Personal Protected, LLC has just scratched the surface of the opportunities in the government marketplace. Working with the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU has been a great thing! I have had guidance from them to register on the SAM.gov site and also create my company’s capability statement,” says Holly Swartz, Vice President of Personal Protected, LLC. “My involvement with the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU has given me the opportunity to participate in the recent online Ohio Matchmaker and Tri-State Matchmaker events with great networking success! I believe that the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU have been such a highly valuable resource for my company at such a critical time of need.”
It is because of Personal Protected, LLC’s persistence, entrepreneurial mindset, and guidance from the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU that they are winning new contracts and opportunities. “Personal Protected is a wonderful example of innovation at its finest,” says the Director of Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU. “Ever since our first meeting, I could tell the compassion and drive Jeff and Holly have permeates everything they do. They managed to not only protect their workers but also to create something that will help people long after this pandemic.”
In 2019, Hovis Construction, LLC was founded in Cortland, OH by owners Michael Hovis and David Grayson. The company’s focus? Construction and demolition, including site clearing and preparation, excavating, laying foundation, and paving.
Later that same year, Hovis Construction, LLC was awarded a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) set-aside contract by the Ohio National Guard for demolition at Camp Garfield in Ravenna, Ohio. This was the first government contract Hovis Construction, LLC was awarded since it was founded. This was also the first time the client had to use Wide Area Workflow (WAWF), the Department of Defense’s electronic invoicing system. Struggling to navigate the WAWF system, Michael contacted the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU seeking personalized assistance.
The Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU, met with Michael to coach him through using WAWF and to discuss other requirements of the nearly $1.7 million contract. Following that initial session, they assisted Michael with developing a capability statement and discussed strategy for leveraging that first contract to win future contracts. “Michael is a wonderful client to work with, He’s committed to the excellence of his company and takes pride in all aspects of his work. That dedication is evident every time we meet,” said the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU Director.
The Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU continued to meet with Michael throughout the performance of the contract to answer any lingering questions about WAWF. “The Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU has assisted us with billing in WAWF. This has allowed us to take an 18-month contract and allowed us to perform the contract in five (5) months,” says Michael Hovis, co-founder of Hovis Construction, LLC. “The expertise that has been provided to us has given me the ability to look for future projects to bid on and streamlined that searching process. As a new startup business, the Ohio APEX Accelerator at YSU’s guidance and mentorship has played a huge part of the early success that we are seeing as a new business. It has given us the ability to increase profitability the very first day of our relationship. This is a story that should be used to make new startup companies aware of this great tool.”
It was because of the successful execution and high-quality work performance that Hovis Construction, LLC won an additional $700,000 contract with the agency. These two contracts have employed over fifteen workers on the job site and an additional fifteen workers for supplies, trucking, and other related jobs. This momentum will help them to secure further federal contracts in 2021 as they have enhanced and validated their past performance as a company.