Insight Partners recently hosted two rapid pitch sessions to bring together fast-growing software companies with technology leaders and innovators in federal and defense agencies.
The first event took place at the Air Force’s flagship software development factory in Boston, Kessel Run, showcasing important new software capabilities the Air Force ought to be aware of.
At a second event in downtown Washington DC, eight Customer Experience (CX), Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and AI/Data companies met with federal officials from DOJ, GSA, DHS, CBP, IRS, USDS, JAIC, and Army Futures.
Both sessions had an emphasis on companies showing their product—and encouraging participants to ask questions.
I was inspired to create these events by the U.S. Air Force which, under the bold leadership of Assistant Secretary Dr. Will Roper has held multiple “pitch days” this year. I had the honor of participating in one over the summer, witnessing the visible excitement from empowered Air Force procurement professionals.
(Technically, Air Force Pitch Days are designed as actual procurement events using SBIR dollars to quickly execute contracts—whereas the two pitch sessions I hosted are classified as “market research”—i.e. no contracts were executed and no promise of business was made.)
The companies participating in the Air Force Pitch Day I attended over the summer were mostly very early stage start-ups. While the Air Force has demonstrated rapid decision making at Pitch Days—even buying products and writing a check on the spot—I wondered whether start-ups represented the most appropriate area to focus on for innovation.
To be clear, the Air Force—and rest of the federal government—should be trying to increase its exposure to venture-backed high-growth software companies.
But very early-stage companies are not necessarily “enterprise-ready” and hence may not be the best fit for the government operational needs, given the scale, security, and complexity of government. Early stage start-ups’ products are likely not mature enough to handle enterprise-type security requirements, for example.
Instead, I’d argue that government ought to be focused on learning from—and trying and buying from—fast-growing venture-backed companies that have already achieved strong product-market fit and are rapidly scaling in their business. In other words, in searching out emerging technology to modernize government, federal technology and procurement executives could benefit from focusing more on the mid and late-stage VC backed companies, and even those that have recently gone public.
These “scale-up” companies that are still growing fast, over-investing in product, and have the resources to invest to support government customers. (Disclaimer: Insight is primarily investing in scale-ups) I’ve blogged about this topic previously, arguing that the Trump White House ought to include a focus on scale-ups in its IT Modernization agenda.
Because, let’s face it, as much as we all want to simplify procurement and make it easier for government to buy simpler and faster, government today is a more expensive market for companies to effectively compete in and serve.
Also, growth investors like Insight Partners look at many thousands of companies each year and invest in only a select few that are experiencing breakout success. Why not leverage that filtering mechanism?
Of course, there are a lot of venues for feds to learn about emerging technology: industry days, conferences, individual meetings, RFIs, and more. Government should be doing continuous market research—to make sure it is getting the best outcomes and best value for taxpayers.
Alongside these activities, it seems to make sense to include an explicit focus on the “scale-ups”—the enterprise-ready companies—that are defining the future.