Recapping #SAMESBC18 in New Orleans

A combined 4,125 people attended the co-located 2018 SAME Federal Small Business Conference for the A/E/C Industry and Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Veterans Small Business Construction-Targeted Industry Engagement, which were held Oct. 31-Nov. 2 in New Orleans, La.

The record attendance to SBC alone (over 3,250) capped the fifth straight year the event has grown—from 1,653 attendees in 2013 to 2,067 in 2015 to 2,582 last year.

The 97 percent growth of SBC since 2013 underscores the equal value that the conference aspires to bring to both government and industry attendees. It is not just about providing opportunities for companies to network with decision-makers from the federal government; and it is not just about creating a forum where agencies can inform the private sector about where it will need contracting support in the years to come. SBC is about creating mutually beneficial opportunities to conduct valuable market research. Whether they are from the private or public sector, attendees can engage with teaming and subcontracting partners, ascertain upcoming areas of infrastructure investment to position their firms for success, hear from experts on best practices for operating in the federal market, discover the available capacity and capability that exists in industry, and learn how other agencies operate in order to achieve more consistent standards and contract application to improve project delivery.

SBC 2018 in New Orleans

Valuable Co-Location

This year, the SBC-NVSBE co-location produced significant additional value for the public and private sector attendees. In particular, instead of attending two conferences (which means twice the cost and twice the time away from the office), businesses could focus their resources on one location and still be able to meet with the agencies they needed to. For the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has roughly $6 billion in facilities maintenance and construction requirements over the next five years, the co-location helped to widen the pool of companies that could learn about its program and plan to compete for solicitations, increasing competition.

The record attendance to SBC alone (over 3,250) capped the fifth straight year that the conference has grown—from 1,653 attendees in 2013 to 2,067 in 2015 to 2,582 last year.

In addition, the co-location gave participating federal agencies the opportunity for cross-collaboration. Panels brought together both military and civilian agencies, bringing awareness to similarities and differences in how they operate and contract with industry. Attendees could go to any event or activity of either SBC or NVSBE. Several aspects were combined, including the Exhibit Hall and the education sessions, while other parts such as Business Opportunity Briefings and Networking Roundtables were structured independently.

Day 1: The Strip Mall Story

The 2018 SBC kicked off Wednesday Oct. 31 with insights from The Honorable Lucian Niemeyer, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Energy, Installations & Environment) and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, P.E., USA, U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Both speakers identified their organizational requirements and challenged the audience to think of how they can help the government meet its missions through improved infrastructure and facilities support.

Assistant Secretary Niemeyer outlined the goals of the Department of Defense—improve readiness, increase lethality, strengthen partnerships, and reform business practices—and provided an update on the subject of partnering, which has been a major area of focus for his office over the last year, working with the military services, industry, and non-governmental organizations to raise the level of communication and cooperation left of project award.

He also expressed that the department knows that because of the challenges associated with federal contracting, that it is losing bidders and that in time that could impact competition and reduce the available capacity to support its missions. Part of its efforts is to improve the reputation of federal work and help to manage the risk to contractors. It knows that contractors need to be able to provide honest feedback to acquisition decision-makers without fear of retribution for future awards. The goal is to truly make the government-contractor relationship a partnership that is beneficial to both. He is encouraged by the progress that has been made in the last 15 months.

Gen. Semonite opened his presentation by detailing the significant workload that is coming up for the Corps of Engineers in FY2019 and how the agency will be leaning heavily on industry to meet its requirements. In addition to a growing Military Construction program and support to other federal agencies, which continues to increase, the Corps’ Civil Works program has $7 billion forthcoming and Gen. Semonite is committed to getting that investment in the ground in the year of award. Additionally, Congress appropriated more than $17 billion in supplemental funding for recovery work as a result of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That work will be done in 33 states and be focused on implementing resilience measures.

SBC 2018 in New Orleans


Given the significant program the Corps is responsible for, Gen. Semonite highlighted the importance of having the capacity and processes available to execute it all. Most importantly, that means industry expertise ready to support. He then relayed a message about deciding where to align a company’s strategic resources, what he calls “The Strip Mall Story.” When faced with the decision to invest their time and talent in building a strip mall for instance, or supporting the federal government by building a missile defense facility or designing a flood risk reduction system, Gen. Semonite said he often asks industry to consider what they want their legacy will be. Supporting federal projects may be challenging, more so than supporting commercial clients, but the work makes a difference for the nation. We’re not in this business to earn a bonus, or to get stock options, he remarked. “Our brand is to take care of this country,” he said.

We’re not in this business to earn a bonus, or to get stock options, he remarked. “Our brand is to take care of this country,” he said.

Following the opening speakers, the remainder of Day One at SBC featured Education Sessions where attendees had the chance to hear from subject matter experts on a variety of legal, contracting, and business development presentations as well as Business Opportunity Briefings, in which government agencies provided insights on upcoming contracting opportunities and best practices on how to do business with them. Among the Education Sessions were Key Considerations in Federal Subcontracting; DCAA Accounting System Compliance for Small Business; Strategies that Promote Corporate Growth and Expansion; and Competitively Respond to Sources-Sought to Influence Acquisition. Business Opportunity Briefings included A&E Business Opportunities; VA Leasing Business Opportunities; and Environmental & Remediation Business Opportunities.

Wednesday also was highlighted by the third annual SAME CEO Roundtable, which brought together senior industry and government representatives to discuss the topic of Category Management, to define what it is, what it is not and how it impacts small and large businesses, and what the next steps are to ensure the acquisition approach is deployed most effectively so that it matures into a tool that is valuable to both sides. An SAME Perspectives report will be published in the coming months to bring more awareness and definition to Category Management as it pertains to the A/E/C market.

The day concluded with a Networking Reception in the Exhibit Hall, where more than 400 exhibitors (including over 250 small businesses) were available to showcase their products and services.

Day 2: Disrupt to Innovate

The second day of the 2018 SBC started with the annual SAME Small Business Awards followed by keynote speaker Linda Bernardi, an award-winning author, innovator, serial entrepreneur, and co-founder of IBM’s “Watson” technology.

The Small Business Award recipients were recognized for excellence in supporting defense and federal small business programs.

The Large Business Award for support of small business programs was presented to HDR. The firm has subcontracted nearly $90 million with 2,100 small businesses in the past three years. It has mentored 23 protégés firms since 2003 and currently has three 8(a) SBA protégés. HDR embraces small businesses as integrated, value-added team members on all its projects through ongoing training, recognition, and accountability.

The Small Business Award for support to defense and federal programs as a small business was presented to ZAPATA. The company received its first defense contract in 1994 and today upholds an excellent reputation and is a recognized name nationwide with military clients. ZAPATA is a Minority/Woman-Owned Business and a Historically Underutilized Business, but it also regularly competes in the full-and-open market by forming and leading teams and joint-venture partnerships with other small businesses and large business partners.

The Industry Small Business Advocate Award for support of small business programs in the defense and federal marketplace was presented to Shawn Ralston, Small Business Program Manager with AECOM. He conducts training, coordinates mentor-protégé participation including 20 agreements the past three years, tracks metrics, and establishes policies and procedures. Ralston leverages his role to advocate on behalf of small businesses and seeks out opportunities to assist the small business community by applying his understanding of federal regulations and programs. He also works on small business issues with the Small Business Administration and the Department of Defense as well as many industry organizations.

The Post Small Business Liaison Officer Award for support of small businesses and small business programs at an SAME Post was presented to Col. Mike Ulekowski, USA (Ret.), President of MULE Engineering & Construction. An advocate for small businesses, he has been the Tampa Bay Post Small Business Liaison Officer since 2013 and is currently Post President as well. Col. Ulekowski freely gives his time to help staff registration tables, support board members, create promotional materials, and volunteer for several Post events. In 2014, he combined two lunch events for small businesses and industry into the Joint Education and Training Day. The event has increased participation from 35 attendees to over 125 and has become a large draw from the entire region.


Following the awards presentation, Linda Bernardi took the stage and led attendees into the world of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and the Internet of Things. Formerly Chief Innovation Officer at IBM, where she helped develop the “Watson” technology, Bernardi is a leading technologist and innovator who helps companies identify where they should be investing and focusing to remain not just relevant, but influential, in the future.

She highlighted several examples of where a company that ignored technological advancements in its business model soon found itself looking up at upstart competitors that “disrupted” the status quo. Examples such as Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb, each of which revolutionized their industries, provide cautionary tales to companies that do not innovate.

Disruption is not chaos, Bernardi said; it is just change. She also focused on the notion of rejection, and that in business, rejection is a necessary byproduct of innovation.

For the defense industry, innovation is not just about survival as a company, but about protection of the national security and the nation’s warfighters. That makes it doubly important to adopt a mindset that you cannot innovate if you do not disrupt. Disruption is not chaos, Bernardi said; it is just change. She also focused on the notion of rejection, and that in business, rejection is a necessary byproduct of innovation. “Be comfortable with your ideas getting rejected; the more they get rejected the more they become successful,” Bernardi said.

Looking forward, Bernardi provided a blueprint for success. We live in a “what if” economy, she said. It is not product first, rather it has now become needs first. Companies must have a vision. Whether you are a company of five people or 500,000 people, you need to let people design things, to take ownership of the innovation. That is what keeps them there and engaged. In closing, she echoed the idea of creating a foundation that enables innovation: “If you haven’t decided the next five years, what you want to achieve, what you want to be, then you need to get started.”

SBC 2018 in New Orleans


The remainder of Day Two again was highlighted by Education Sessions and Business Opportunity Briefings, along with the start of Networking Roundtables, where small business were able to meet in small groups with large businesses and government agencies to learn more about upcoming procurement opportunities and information on how to best compete for federal contracts and subcontracting.

Featured Education Sessions included Capture & Conquer: Teaming and Strategic Alliances; CPARS…Evaluation Process from the Government’s Perspective; Necessary Subcontracts Provisions & Proposal Preparation Issues; Win More! Tips from Contracting and Industry; Enhancing your BD Culture from the Inside-Out; and Ownership Changes & Succession Planning.

Business Opportunity Briefings included Vertical Construction Business Opportunities; Energy Business Opportunities; Horizontal Construction Business Opportunities; and Hydropower Business Opportunities.

Day Two of the 2018 SBC officially wrapped up with a Networking Reception in the Exhibit Hall, but “unofficial” networking likely extended well into the evening as attendees took full advantage of all that New Orleans has to offer!

Day 3: Knowledge is Power

On Day Three of the 2018 SBC, Education Sessions, Business Opportunity Briefings and Networking Roundtables were front and center, while the sold-out Exhibit Hall continued to offer attendees the chance to get around and explore the types of products and services available within industry. More than two dozen government agencies also hosted booths, which allowed for attendees to meet with small business specialists, senior leadership, and contracting experts in an open and transparent setting.

One area of note was from Brig. Gen. Michael Hoskin, USA, USACE Director of Contracting, who made the audience aware of how the Corps is increasing its attention on enforcing subcontracting rules and that he is going to personally be reviewing the subcontracting performance of large businesses to ensure compliance.

Among the Education Sessions on Day Three were Top 10 Decisions Facing Small Business CEOs; Leveraging Scalable Technology for Small Business Growth; Size (Re)Certifications: Tripwires for Small Businesses; and Defining the Best Federal Teaming Partnerships. Business Opportunity Briefings included Emergency Management Business Opportunities; and GSA & EPA Business Opportunities.

A highlight of Friday was a session entitled Insights from Federal A/E/C & Acquisition Leaders that brought together senior leaders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Air Force Civil Engineer Center, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Small Business Administration for updates on new federal initiatives being rolled out and updates on challenge areas and how they are being addressed. One area of note was from Brig. Gen. Michael Hoskin, USA, USACE Director of Contracting, who made the audience aware of how the Corps is increasing its attention on enforcing subcontracting rules and that he is going to personally be reviewing the subcontracting performance of large businesses to ensure compliance. Another key takeaway was from Robb Wong, Associate Administrator of Government Contracting & Business Development with the Small Business Administration who not only shared his cell phone number and email address with attendees, but asked them to contact him with questions they have and issues they see. He is committed to helping industry be successful in supporting the government’s missions, because that means the nation is benefiting as well.



The 2018 SBC and NVSBE concluded with a joint closing luncheon keynoted by The Honorable James Byrne, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Deputy Secretary Byrne addressed the department’s priority areas, notably efforts to modernize technology and infrastructure to better support America’s veterans. “We cannot take on the new initiatives without the infrastructure to support it,” he said.

Electronic records modernization is a significant area of investment, as well as operations and maintenance to improve the clinics and medical centers where veterans are cared for. His message particularly resonated with the audience, as the A/E/C community plays a key role in providing safe, secure and comfortable facilities for patients and visitors.

Photos, Presentations & 2019

The 2018 SBC set an attendance record with over 3,250 attendees. Combined with the NVSBE attendees (more than 800), the two co-located events brought significant value to both government and industry participants: military and civilian agencies; large and small businesses. SBC will next be headed to Dallas in 2019, to be held Nov. 20-22 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

Presentations from the 2018 SBC are available under the “learn” tab at and then by searching for a particular session. Photos are available at SAME’s flickr page. Recap the conference on social media using #SAMESBC18 and #MySBJourney.

Thank you to all the sponsors, speakers, exhibitors, and attendees for making the 2018 Small Business Conference the biggest event SAME has ever hosted!