Avening Tech grows by leaps and bounds, earns award
‘Small Business of the Year’ Leading Edge winner does it all virtually
Newburg’s Lee Platt has gone from zero employees to 70 in just three years and is planning to nearly double that number by the end of the year. “I’m guessing we’ll have a hundred people by sometime in September,” the defense contractor said during an interview last week in her small, little-used La Plata office. “Looking at some of the things we have in the pipeline, and the probabilities associated with them, we could end up with 125 or 130 people by the end of the year. It could be more.” “The problem, though, for a small company is it’s hard to grow fast because cashflow is a real problem,” she said. “We get paid 30 days after we submit the invoice, which means that we’re carrying people for 60 days without being paid. We can’t hire 25 people today, because we have to pay 25 people for four or five pay cycles before we see any money. If I had an unlimited supply of money, we could double our size every month.” No wonder Avening Management and Technical Services — she likes to use the shortened version found on her coffee mug, Avening Tech — earned the Small Business Development Center Small Business of the Year award for the 2016 edition of the College of Southern Maryland’s Leading Edge Awards. “We provide technical services to the DoD — mostly in the realm of cybersecurity and information technology, network support,” Platt said. Avening Tech has a small office in the heart of La Plata, but that’s mostly to satisfy a requirement for a U.S. Navy seaport contract — Platt does most everything from a home office. “If we didn’t have to have that we would be 100 percent virtual,” she said. “All of my infrastructure support people (managers) are virtual. My program director is in Indianapolis. I have another program director in Hawaii.” She also has an administrator in Baltimore and a facilities security officer in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “We do everything as virtually as possible. For me it’s about efficiency. I’ve been working from home for a really long time. I have a mode of operation. I can get twice as much done there if I don’t have to leave the house.” Platt has been working in the defense contracting field since her four-year stint in the U.S. Army ended in 1983 — she was a Russian translator at a time when the former Soviet Union still loomed large — but mostly as an employee with other contractors. In 2013, she and her husband Christopher, a retired career Marine and fellow defense contractor, transferred a dormant company he had started in 2009 — “as sort of an exit strategy” — to her so she could pursue defense contracting on her own. “Two things happened: first of all, the government put in place something called the ‘women-owned small business set-aside’ preference program. That started getting some traction around 2012,” Platt said. The second thing was that their four kids were grown and out of college, allowing her to take a chance at leaving the work world and entering the business world. “It was a magical kind of confluence of circumstances and events that allowed this to happen,” she said. “It’s really fun. I probably wouldn’t say that if we weren’t successful. But there’s an exhilaration and adrenaline that goes along with being at least somewhat successful.” Her employees can be found all around the globe including military installations in Hawaii and Japan, as well as sites across the United States. And those employees are helping earn Avening a good reputation among clients and fellow contractors. “Looking back, one of the things I can now say is we’ve had a lot of success in keeping people,” Platt said. “There’s a lot of turnover in this sort of work. It’s a very volatile environment. People who have the kind of skills and experiences and clearances that we need, they have a lot of options.” “We’ve been able to visibly and obviously exceed anybody’s expectations for retention,” she added. “Our people are sticking around. We’ve had a few who left and then they boomeranged right back. Now we’ve managed to work ourselves into a position where we are a preferred vendor for several of the sites.” While the technical positions have been the backbone of the business so far, Platt is working toward expanding out into more familiar terrain: providing experts for decision-makers. “Most of the work that I’ve done in the 30 years was related to command and control — helping military leadership make decisions,” Platt said. “What they need in order to make decisions is information. The information comes from all kinds of sources and all kinds of expertise and that’s what we delivered, is the people who have that expertise, to synthesize that information and get it into the hands of the people that need to make decisions.” “We’re trying to move back in that direction, so the kind of work that we’re pursuing is more related to that,” she said. “The most recent guy hired is doing that right now. He’s a cyber defensive operations planner. He was hired specifically to be that guy so that he could help the chief of staff on the military side plan and execute exercises related to cybersecurity.” Platt is optimistic about the future of the company and hopes it will be able to compete with the bigger players in the not-too-distant future. Its quick growth is being followed up with strategic thinking aimed at putting its eggs in different baskets. “We’re moving in the right direction,” she said. “I’m proud of what we did but there’s a million other companies out there doing 10 or 100 times better than we are.”
Lee Platt, CEO of Avening Tech in La Plata, poses in her little-used office with the CSM Leading Edge Award she picked up last month as the Small Business Development Center’s Small Business of the Year.