Innovation and Alignment with Ashley Chung, SBIR Advisors

Jan 9, 2024 | Innovation, Know-How | 0 comments



Ashley Chung, a former Unlimited Contracting Officer and Branch Chief of Air and Space Operations in the U.S. Air Force, has made a significant impact at SBIR Advisors, guiding tech startups like Circle Optics to secure over $5 million in Defense contracts. Her transition from the military to a civilian advisory role reflects her ongoing commitment to supporting national security, leveraging her expertise to navigate the complex DoD acquisition bureaucracy and articulate solutions that align with DoD needs. Chung's strategic approach and ability to foster relationships with DoD stakeholders are key to SBIR Advisors' success in securing contracts, as she emphasizes clarity, specificity, and innovation in proposals while maintaining a strong focus on understanding and aligning with client needs.

Ashley Chung, a distinguished professional in the field of defense contracting, has played a pivotal role at SBIR Advisors, a firm dedicated to assisting tech startups in securing Defense contracts. Under her guidance, Circle Optics has successfully secured over $5 million in government contracts, a testament to her expertise and strategic approach Chief Operating Officer ian Gauger shared,” Ashley is a joy to work with. She is so enthusiastic and so knowledgeable. We appreciate her previous experience of having sat on the other side of the table as a contracting officer.”  We recently had the opportunity to delve deeper into Ashley’s methods and perspectives. Before her tenure at SBIR Advisors, she served as an Unlimited Contracting Officer and Branch Chief of Air and Space Operations in the United States Air Force, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to her current role.

You’ve had an extensive career with the United States Air Force as a Contracting Officer. What motivated your transition from the United States Air Force to the private sector and your current role with SBIR Advisors?

Transitioning from the Air Force to a civilian advisory role was a particularly meaningful shift for me. It allowed me to continue working alongside incredible individuals, a constant throughout my military career. However, this new role brought an added dimension: the opportunity to support a diverse array of small businesses, all keen to contribute to our national security. This felt deeply personal, given my own military background. By moving into this role, I found myself aiding military members in a new way, fostering their well-being, and supporting my friends and colleagues who continue to serve. This commitment reflects my deep-rooted dedication to the military and the Department of Defense (DoD), an integral part of my life for the past twelve years.

What are the most common challenges companies face when engaging with the DoD?

Working with the Department of Defense (DoD) comes with its unique set of challenges, particularly for small businesses. The most significant of these is navigating the DoD’s complex acquisition bureaucracy. This includes understanding intricate processes and managing intense competition among program participants, as well as handling the complexities of contract management once an award is secured. Crucially, the ability to align and articulate the problem and the proposed solution to meet the DOD’s specific needs is essential. The language used in this context is key; it must clearly translate the solution into direct results for the DoD.

My experience with the DoD’s unique communication style and operational approach is invaluable in this regard. Many small businesses, despite having innovative technology, struggle to grasp and use this specialized language, which can lead to miscommunication. In my role, I assist these companies in framing their problems and solutions in a way that aligns with the DoD’s mission and requirements. By strategically tailoring their presentations, I help these businesses effectively demonstrate how their solutions meet the specific needs of the Department.

What are some key strategies that have contributed to SBIR Advisosrs’ over $400M in won contracts:

Securing awards for small businesses involves strategic navigation and discernment. It’s crucial to pursue opportunities aligned with the company’s goals while avoiding prospects that may necessitate drastic changes or conflict with the company’s strategy. Balancing adaptation to the DoD without compromising the company’s core identity is key. 

When collaborating with clients like Circle Optics, we carefully evaluate potential modifications to their technology or products, while considering government requirements such as open topic solicitations versus specific needs. We prioritize making commitments and delivering on those commitments to maintain credibility with the government. My strategic approach also emphasizes empathy in understanding the client’s investment in SBIR Advisor’s services for their company’s growth. This perspective helps me reflect on what I think the company wants as a decision-maker and advise curated solutions aligned with their needs accordingly. 

What makes a successful proposal? 

The key elements for crafting a successful proposal, in my view, are clarity, specificity, innovation, and alignment with DoD requirements. An essential piece of advice I would give to companies is to deeply understand their unique value proposition and how it aligns with the needs and requirements of the DoD. But beyond these technical aspects, relationship-building is another critical factor in setting a company apart.

Developing strong relationships with DoD stakeholders is crucial. When a company builds rapport and trust with government stakeholders, it positions itself as a reliable partner for future opportunities. These relationships signal to the DoD that the company is not only capable of delivering on current projects but is also a dependable resource for future needs.

Regarding best practices in relationship-building, there are several strategies Circle Optics can implement:

  • Engage Consistently: Regular interaction with DoD contacts, not just during project phases but also in-between, can help keep the company top-of-mind.
  • Demonstrate Expertise: Sharing insights, innovations, and industry developments can position the company as a thought leader and a go-to resource.
  • Provide Value-Added Solutions: Going beyond contractual obligations to offer solutions that proactively address potential challenges or enhance DoD operations can solidify the company’s reputation as a valuable partner.

These strategies are not just about building relationships after securing a contract but are about fostering ongoing engagement and trust within the DoD community.

How do you see the landscape of government contracting evolving? 

The landscape of government contracting is currently undergoing significant changes. We’re witnessing an increased emphasis on innovation and a heavy reliance on technology, coupled with a continued focus on streamlining processes. In response to these trends, companies and professionals need to prepare for evolving compliance issues and embrace digital savviness, especially considering efforts like the Air Force’s major digital transformation.

Being competitive in the marketplace now requires agility and adaptability. Companies must be quick to respond to these changes, understanding that they are ongoing and not distant future events. The necessary adaptations don’t have to be groundbreaking; instead, they should be responsive and timely, adjusting to new developments as they occur. This approach is crucial for staying relevant and successful in the dynamic world of government contracting.

What is your experience working with Circle Optics? 

Working with Circle Optics has been an incredibly rewarding experience, not just in terms of our significant achievements, like winning over $5 million in contracts, but also in terms of the relationships we’ve built. One of the most special aspects of our collaboration is the genuine camaraderie and shared passion we have for our work. The team dynamics extend beyond professional boundaries; it’s not just about being colleagues. We’ve cultivated a close-knit family-like atmosphere where open and honest conversations are the norm.

This relationship extends beyond just work-related interactions. I often tell my team members that with Circle Optics, it’s about more than just business. They’re the kind of people I’d genuinely enjoy spending time with outside of work, like sharing a dinner if I were passing by Rochester. This personal connection and mutual respect play a significant role in our successful collaboration.

Post Tags: Expertise, SBIR, Synergy

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