Aven­ing Tech grows by leaps and bounds, earns award

‘Small Busi­ness of the Year’ Lead­ing Edge win­ner does it all vir­tu­ally

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

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.”

STAFF PHOTO BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

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.

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