The “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” list serves to elevate awareness of the innovation, professionalism, competence and tenacity demonstrated by Native entrepreneurs across Indian Country. Native Business is rolling out profiles of these 50 Native entrepreneurs online, in no particular hierarchy, to document and memorialize their innovation and self-determination. The inaugural class of the Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs recognizes leaders across 13 business sectors, demonstrating the diversity of industries where Natives are making an impact. Among the entrepreneurs recognized in our Federal Contracting sector is Vicki Vasques.
Today Tribal Tech, LLC, Vicki Vasques’ 8(a) startup, has an impressive and growing collection of awards as one of the fastest-growing small businesses in the Washington, D.C. federal marketplace. It has a spot on the 2018 11th annual list of the 50 Fastest Growing Woman-Owned/Led Companies for 2018 from the Women Presidents’ Organization for the third consecutive year. It’s on the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 23rd Annual List of Virginia’s Fantastic 50, and it’s been included on Inc. Magazine’s 5000 list for four consecutive years. And in 2015, Vasques earned her own recognition as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Person of the Year in the Northern Virginia Region.
But the journey from her start 19 years ago, when she decided to retire from the federal government, to her stunning success today has been anything but overnight. With 25 years of public service at the U.S. Departments of Education and Energy, Vasques stepped down from her position at the U.S. Department of Education in 2000 to launch her own business on the advice of friends.
Initially, acquiring clients was a slow roll, by her own account. Although she thought she could easily snag contracts with both federal agencies she had worked for, the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) made that difficult without past performance as a business — even as a woman-owned, Native-owned small business. (Vasques is part Diegueno of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians based in Valley Center, California.) Consequently, she describes the period from 2000 to 2009 spent “literally knocking on doors to get people to give her work.”
Eventually, she got a single person on a contract doing work as Tribal Tech. It was enough to get by, but not flourish, and when the opportunity to run as a Republican candidate for state delegate in Virginia’s largely blue 45th district in 2009 came about, she took it.
There, however, she suffered a stinging political loss that led to the epiphany that drove Vasques back into business. “If I can knock on all the doors in the district and work as hard as I had to run for delegate, I could work that hard to start my own business,” she told Native Business Magazine. And so she did. Thus, it wasn’t until 2010 that she “did anything serious” and “really put the pedal to the metal to build Tribal Tech’s past performance” that would greatly improve her ability to bid competitively in the federal marketplace.
During that time, she also garnered U.S. Small Business 8(a) certification, which was approved in 30 days — something nearly unheard of. Vasques is a huge advocate of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 8(a) program, and advises everyone considering getting into the federal space to get certified as soon as possible. “The education, training and technical support that the SBA offers can be the difference between success and failure,” she advises.
To help fund Tribal Tech’s growth, Vasques “established a close relationship with a banker at a financial institution,” she said. “We took baby steps, growing Tribal Tech together. I would also add that establishing a realistic line of credit, especially if you’re in the government contracting business, is essential.”
Today, Tribal Tech has a healthy portfolio of over $8.3 million with about 100 people working nationwide for Tribal Tech, providing training and technical assistance to various entities including Tribes, federal agencies and private businesses. Tribal Tech’s specialized services include training and technical assistance, grants management, communications, outreach and event planning.
“People, Performance and Partnership” are Vasques’ watchwords — and woven into every aspect of her company.
Her advice to fellow Native entrepreneurs is confidence and devotion. “Definitely go after what it is that you do, and do it well,” she said. “If you have a passion, go after it! Stay true to who you are, and be truly committed.” Vasques concedes that entrepreneurship requires a “110 percent effort… and one you have to be engaged in every day” — yet effort well worth it.