The west coast hasn’t cornered the market on innovation – a Q&A with Rick Gordon of MACH37

Rick Gordon, the Managing Partner at the country’s premier cybersecurity accelerator, MACH37, will be joining a host of other technology influencers, experts and executives from the National Capital region’s innovative technology companies this Friday at the Washington Technology Showcase.

This event, which will be held at the MITRE offices in McLean, VA, has been themed, “Building the Innovation Bridge,” and will feature local small, startup and emerging growth technology companies that are working on innovative and exciting new technologies. It will also feature panel and keynote discussions from some of the local areas top thought leaders and decision makers, discussing some of the different technology fields and areas that are seeing rapid innovation and growth, and the government’s process for acquiring these technologies.

To learn more about what attendees can expect at this exciting event, we recently sat down with rick for an interview. During our discussion, we discussed which technologies are some of the hottest and most in-demand across enterprise and government today, why cybersecurity is gaining immense attention and why those that think innovation is sequestered on the west coast are missing something.

Here is what Rick had to say:

rick-gordonCorporate Growth, Capital Style (CGCS): The theme of the upcoming Washington Technology Showcase is, “Building the Innovation Bridge.” What innovative companies, technologies, and solutions are we seeing emerge in the National Capital region that are garnering attention from public and private sector IT decision makers?

Rick Gordon: I would say, in general, any companies that are in the cybersecurity sector – which is the only sector that I focus on for investment – are garnering attention. The cybersecurity industry is a generational growth opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors alike.

You don’t have to look past the front page of the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post to see that this is an industry in which innovation will be critical over the next decade. And there are many, many companies in this region that are innovating in that sector.

CGCS: What trends and challenges are federal agencies and military branches currently focused on? How are these ongoing programs, technology trends, and challenges impacting IT investment across the government? Are these consistent across the government?

Rick Gordon: The need is everywhere. I would suggest that the inflection point that has caused all consumers of IT products to recognize that they need to focus and spend more money on security is the fact that they’re all getting owned.

The adversary is getting deeply rooted in all of their networks. It’s getting difficult for them – given the technologies that they’ve currently deployed, since they deploy technologies rather slowly – to keep up with the techniques that the adversary is able to bring to bear to penetrate their networks.

They realize that. And they realize that their networks are getting owned. And it’s driving additional investment in these new, innovative security technologies.

Within the federal government, the civilian agencies are the lesser funded agencies. They’re not going to spend as much as their intelligence community or Department of Defense counterparts to protect their networks because they don’t have the budgets. So they’re not spending the same amount as intelligence and defense, but it’s a problem across the board. Regardless, they’re all trying to solve this network and cybersecurity issue.

CGCS: Your specific panel discussion is entitled, “Innovation and Technology in the Government Acquisition Process.” How would you characterize the government acquisition process right now? Has it been effective for identifying, acquiring and implementing the technologies you discussed above across the federal government? Why or why not?

Rick Gordon: I can tell you that it’s been effective in more permissive contracting environments, where larger agencies may have internal research and development functions and where they can buy things without competing them.

But, I think – in general – it’s still slow outside of those more permissive environments. And it will continue to be slow until they adopt more innovative approaches.

The Department of Defense (DoD) is doing something called DIUX, which is intended to increase outreach to what they believe are more innovative geographic ecosystems – although I don’t know if I agree with the regions they consider “more innovative.” They have DIUX outposts in Boston and Palo Alto. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has something similar, where they’re doing greater outreach into more innovative ecosystems.

And each of those are trying to create environments where smaller companies can field their new technologies in government scenarios in a way that is attractive for them to focus on. But those are small tokens of movement in the right direction. It’s going to have to change much more dramatically if the rest of the federal government infrastructure is to keep up.

Currently, the existing acquisition process favors the larger companies. If you’re a small technology company and a request for proposal (RFP) comes out, you’re at a disadvantage. The larger companies are RFP writing machines. Even if they don’t have technical advantages or competitive advantages, the large company will win nine times out of ten. That becomes demoralizing and makes it an unattractive competitive environment for most startups.

CGCS: How has the government acquisition process changed or shifted in the past decade? What has driven this change? Would you say things are better? What can still be done to improve it?

Rick Gordon: I feel that there’s an incredible amount of negative inertia that has needed to be overcome for decades – or at least the last decade. But I do think there is a recognition within the federal procurement architecture that they’re too slow and that they can’t keep up compared to commercial organizations.

And that’s an important first step – recognizing that there’s a problem and that the acquisition procedures are too slow. But, with so much intertia to overcome, it will be difficult to overcome or at least the next decade.

There is one trend that a lot of forward thinkers in government are looking towards and that is cloud. Delivery via SaaS and cloud infrastructure is absolutely going to create dividends both from an innovation and efficiency perspective, as well as a security perspective.

There were some detractors that felt that in cloud environments – public clouds in particular – there was a loss of visibility and control. I don’t believe that.

I believe that most organizations that are hosting their own clouds and environments are ill equipped to protect and manage them as well as they could in a multi-tenant environment. The large cloud providers are much better equipped for this, and have more time, resources and funds to focus on securing these environments.

CGCS: You’re going to be one of the speakers at the upcoming Washington Technology Showcase. Who in the greater DC Metro area should be sure to come to the event? What can they expect to learn from the showcase?

 

Rick Gordon: I think anyone looking for innovation and that holds the unwarranted belief that the only place where innovation happens is in Silicon Valley, or Boston, can learn a lot. The innovation here in DC is effective, and it’s real. Especially in security.

ACG National Capital and MITRE are collaborating on the upcoming Washington Technology Showcase. This event, which will be held on Friday, December 2, 2016, will feature the most exciting and innovative new technology companies in the region. For additional information and to register online, click HERE.

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