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XCell creates access to grant funding with The Opportunity Project

The White House has selected Felix Gilbert of digital services firm XCell to help get part of the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package into the hands of underserved communities.

Gilbert’s company, XCell, is one of the five teams working with the White House as part of the 2022 “Opportunity Project,” an initiative that began in 2016 to use federal and local data to tackle issues of inequality.

As part of the project, Felix Gilbert and his team at XCell are making it easier for under-resourced communities to apply for and win grants. XCell is trying to connect small municipalities to the skilled labor necessary to fill out the paperwork for a grant. Although there are plenty of places to search for government funding, few of them help understaffed grant seekers get connected to contractors who can complete the important work, such as getting cost estimates or construction timelines necessary to win a grant.

Gilbert and the other teams that are part of the volunteer-based White House project are also looking at creating products to track federal money to make sure states distribute it to smaller municipalities. XCell is focused on Aurora, Colorado as well as Native American tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The three-person digital design company was founded in 2004 and moved to Baltimore in 2011 to work with Zion Church. The company has worked with a variety of clients ranging from the U.S. Navy, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare, and a variety of nonprofits.

Felix Gilbert said he has been speaking directly to people to help understand their needs. Though the White House often finds it easy to give money to larger cities such as Baltimore, Gilbert said it can often be difficult to fund projects in small cities.

Read the full article on Maryland Inno and learn more about what XCell is doing to make it easier for under-resourced communities to apply for and win grants. 

8(a) certification tips from Ey3’s executives

At Hutch, we’re all about making an impact in government. And thanks to their recent 8(a) certification, Hutch company Ey3 Technologies is going to be able to do that much more easily. 

Ey3 Technologies is a woman-owned (EDWOSB and CBSB) systems engineering and cyber security digital services firm that’s committed to combining technology with purpose to affect change. CEO Summer Bazemore has been a member of Hutch since 2020, and she and her husband Terry Bazemore, Jr. (Ey3’s COO) earned their 8(a) certification in June of 2022. 

“We’re so excited,” Summer said. “I’m hoping that this will open the door for others to learn more about who Ey3 is. We want to work in government, and this is a great catalyst for us to reach into many different industries.” 

About the 8(a) program

Becoming 8(a) certified by the Small Business Administration (SBA) is a big win for any company. The nine-year program aims to lift up socially and economically disadvantaged small business owners, enabling company growth in government. 8(a) certified firms can get help from business, procurement, and compliance experts, access mentorship opportunities, and receive free training. And most importantly, 8(a) certified companies can get exclusive access to government work through set-aside and sole-source contracts. 

8(a) certification creates a great opportunity for Minority and Women-Owned businesses to conduct business with the federal government.  Of all the contract vehicles available to procurement officials, through efficient marketing, 8(a) is the one that can open doors that might otherwise be closed. It provides firms the ability to compete effectively with other businesses of the same and similar size instead of against large businesses,” said Monica M. Randall, CEO of The Randall Group

But the program can be challenging to get into. And this is something Summer and Terry experienced firsthand. While you’ll hear about companies getting certified in a few months, Ey3’s certification took over a year. 

“It’s been some long nights,” Summer said. “And as we continue to maintain the business, dinner still has to be cooked. The house still has to be cleaned. But I’m doing this for my family. I’m doing this for my kids. And I’m doing it for my longer-term peace of mind. So, it’s worth it.”

Ey3’s 8(a) certification experience

The challenges Ey3 faced

Their experience got Summer and Terry thinking about other small, disadvantaged business owners who could benefit from the 8(a) program. People with families, lives, and limited free time to spare. To help make this process smoother for other entrepreneurs, Summer and Terry wanted to share their lessons learned.  

One lesson Summer and Terry learned was that, when submitting your 8(a) application, it’s not just about the information provided. How you present that information is also key. 

“One of the obstacles we faced was the way we had our finances organized,” Summer said. “And it’s not that it was bad — I’m actually kind of anal retentive about organizational finances — it just wasn’t organized in the way that they needed to receive it. So we were having to go back and redo a lot of things, and that drew the process out for us.” 

Summer and Terry worked with their accountant to resolve the issues that SBA brought up, but it took time. They had to redo their paperwork, put together a new submission package, and wait for it to be reviewed. After that, all they could do was hope there weren’t any more issues. But the issues just kept coming. 

For one thing, the fact that Summer and Terry are married made things a little complicated. SBA requires personal financial information about business owners applying for an 8(a) certification. And this meant that Terry and Summer had to submit a lot of their shared information twice plus any additional information requested.

Ey3 also operates under a DBA (“Doing Business Under”), so some issues came up around the company name. SBA needs to be able to trace the entire history of a business. So, if your legal name is one thing, but you do business under another, they need documentation to link the two together. 

And then there was the business address problem. Like many small business owners who don’t want their home addresses plastered all over the internet, Summer and Terry used that address in certain instances and a mailing address in others. 

These are all common practices for small business owners, so Summer and Terry’s situation isn’t unusual. But still, it made getting 8(a) certified a real challenge for Ey3. 

How Ey3 overcame their 8(a) certification roadblocks

Summer and Terry decided to bring in some outside help early on to ensure that they left no stone unturned. They hired Monica M. Randall, 8(a) Certification SME of The Randall Group/Monica Randall, and she was able to provide expert knowledge and instructions on how to properly prepare and submit for the 8(a) certification. 

“One of the best tips I have for companies looking to get 8(a) certified is to work with a consultant who does submissions,” Summer said. “It takes a little money, but I was so grateful for it. I don’t think I would have been able to get all the documents together without her,” said Summer. “Monica M. Randall knew/knows EXACTLY how the information would need to be organized for submission as she had actually worked for SBA in the space for over 2 decades and been in business herself for quite some time holding a very high success rate for 8(a) certificates.”

This was invaluable to Summer and Terry, who had been trying to make these decisions themselves up until that point. 

“I wouldn’t advise that people try this on their own,” Terry said. “It’s worth it to have somebody to hold your hand and guide you through this process. Because some of the information they asked for, I didn’t even know how to find out. I think having a consultant probably cut out 80% of the problems for us.” 

While bringing in expert help was Summer and Terry’s top tip for streamlining the certification process, it wasn’t their only one. So, if you’re a small disadvantaged business looking to become 8(a) certified, Ey3 has some advice for you. (And if you’re not sure if you’re eligible for 8(a) certification, you can check out SBA’s Am I Eligible tool to find out). 

Ey3’s top five tips for getting 8(a) certified

  • Hire a consultant to guide you through the process. A consultant can speed up the application process and help you avoid rework. By advising you on what documents you need to provide and how you should present the required information to SBA, they can help you submit accurately and efficiently. 
  • Keep your financial information (both business and personal) organized. Even if you work with a consultant, you still have to gather a lot of information for SBA about both your personal finances and your business’. Because of that, it’s important to keep your finances organized so you can find what you need when you need it. 
  • Make sure the official name you use for your company is consistent. If you have a DBA or have gone through a name change, make sure you use the same name on your official documents and in places like SAM.gov. Doing this ahead of time can help you avoid having to go back and update your documents partway through the process.
  • Keep your business address consistent. Just like your company name, you’ll need to make sure that the business address you use is consistent across your official documents. Keep in mind that this business address also has to be a physical, brick-and-mortar location — virtual or mailing addresses were unfortunately a no go for Ey3. 
  • Find your community. When you’re working on something as complex as 8(a) certification, bouncing ideas off of other people going through similar things can be a huge help. For Summer and Terry, Hutch provides that space where they can ask questions of their peers and get tips from people who have gone through this before. But wherever you find your people, don’t be afraid to lean on them for support. 

Think Hutch might be a good fit for you?

To learn more, check out our website or register for an info session today. 

Tips for Time Management for CEOs

Tips for time management for CEOs who want to reclaim their time. 

When you’re the leader of a growing company, it can sometimes feel like you don’t have time to breathe. And when you’re just trying to keep your head above water, it can feel impossible to find the time to think through better time management strategies. This playbook is here to help. With practical and easy-to-action tips and tricks, we’re providing our best advice and tips for time management.

Play 1: Assess your current time spend.

The first step in reclaiming your time is understanding where it’s currently going. To start, you should look over your calendar and see what’s taking up the most time. 

  • Evaluate your calendar. Take a look at the past few weeks on your calendar and identify the things you spent the most time on. This can give you a sense of where your time is going and if there are areas you could tighten up. You should aim to focus the majority of your time on your priorities (check out our prioritization playbook for more on that topic), as this will ensure that you’re working on the most critical tasks for your business. 
  • Identify your time sucks. You should also take a look at what unimportant tasks are eating up a lot of your time. Email is often a big time suck, and meetings can be another (see play 2). Identify any tasks that are low-value but high-effort so you can start proactively shifting your attention away from them. 

Play 2: Rethink your approach to meetings.

One of the biggest time sucks for many founders and CEOs is meetings. While it’s hard to do away with meetings entirely, there are some quick and easy things that you can do to reclaim some time from them. 

  • Decline extraneous meetings, and cut the rest in half. Seriously. Start by removing any low-value meetings from your calendar, and then trim the rest by 50%. Make your hour-long meetings 30-minutes, and your 30-minute meetings just 15 minutes. Fearless Founder and CEO Delali Dzirasa did exactly this, and he hasn’t looked back since. You’ll be surprised at how much everyone can accomplish in a short amount of time when they put their minds to it. 
  • Maximize your meeting time. To make the most out of your shorter meetings, our friends at Unison have some helpful advice. First, make sure that every meeting has a clearly defined purpose. If a topic comes up that isn’t aligned with that purpose, table it. You’ll also want to make sure that everyone understands what they’re bringing to the conversation and avoid inviting people who won’t play an active role. You should define the purpose and roles for any meetings you’re running, but also get comfortable asking for these things when you’re just an invitee. That can give you a better sense of if you actually need to attend the meetings you’re invited to. 

Play 3: Dream up your ideal calendar.

Once you’ve gotten a handle on where your time is going and some time back from your meetings, you can start to think about what you’d like your days to look like. At this point, you should start thinking about your dream calendar. 

  • Think about your ideal ratio of meetings to working blocks. What this looks like will depend on your working style, so ask yourself questions that will help you figure out what an ideal day or week would look like for you. Do you like to have large chunks of uninterrupted work time? Or does breaking up the day with meetings help you keep your focus? There’s no wrong answer here; it’s all about identifying the balance that works best for you. 
  • Create quotas and caps for how much time you’ll put towards different tasks. To help ensure that the majority of your time is going towards your priorities, it can help to come up with some metrics that you can track. You might want to target 20% of your time towards building relationships with a high-priority customer, for example, or make sure that you’re spending no more than 5% of your time on emails. Set target quotas for different kinds of tasks, test them out and iterate as needed.

Play 4: Bring in help to enforce your ideal calendar.

Now that you have a sense of what your ideal calendar is, you’ll want to work on making your actual calendar match this as closely as possible. And to do this effectively, you’ll need some help. 

  • Hire an assistant (if you don’t already have one). While you may be able to manage your calendar on your own if your business is in its early stages, this can be a big time suck, and your calendar will only get busier as you grow. That’s why we recommend bringing on an assistant now to start managing your calendar and protecting your time. 
  • Work with your assistant to create (and enforce) your rules of engagement. Start by figuring out what guardrails you’d like to have your assistant put in place around your time. If your working blocks are sacred to you, have them auto-reject meetings requested during these blocks. Or if you find yourself writing the same email over and over, have them take this on. Define those expectations early so your assistant can start protecting your time as quickly and easily as possible. 

Play 5: Don’t bend your schedule to meet someone else’s needs. 

Once your ideal calendar is in place and you’ve set up your assistant to enforce it, you’ll be in good shape. But there will always be exceptions that you’ll be tempted to make. An old business associate will call you for advice or you’ll be asked to speak at an event that’s important to you. That’s why it can be helpful to define when and why you might not follow the rules you’ve put in place. 

  • Bend the rules of your calendar for things that are important to you. When something comes up that’s critically important for your business or that’s personally meaningful to you, that’s when you might want to consider bending the rules that you’ve put in place. If an opportunity comes up for you to meet a hero of yours, by all means, take it! Just don’t feel the need to rearrange your schedule for things that aren’t a priority for you. 
  • Don’t rework your calendar to meet someone else’s needs. When someone wants to meet with you for their own sake, you shouldn’t feel the need to change up your working style to accommodate them. If you’ve set aside Fridays as your heads-down day, don’t feel pressured to change this just because someone has asked you for a favor that day. When someone is asking something of you, it’s up to them to bend their schedule to meet your needs. If it’s important enough to them, they’ll find a way to make it work.