By Nancy Dahlberg
This Navy veteran is on a mission to make selling to the government easier for diverse small businesses.
Shakeia Kegler founded GovLia, a business-to-government marketplace that simplifies the way small, women-owned, veteran-owned, and minority-owned businesses sell to state and local government entities.
GovLia’s software platform streamlines the way small businesses connect with the government agencies and bid on opportunities, and at the same time GovLia provides educational services, ensuring that businesses are appropriately positioned to not only win contracts with government agencies, but actually fulfill those contracts, Kegler said.
“We’re providing both the technology and the people approach to inclusive procurement and helping businesses connect with government agencies and other businesses.”
Kegler experienced government contracting from both sides of the table before embarking on GovLia. She served in active duty for the U.S. Navy for five years and managed a weapons department operating budget worth $400,000 while onboard the USS George Washington deployed in Yokosuka, Japan. Then, after her honorable discharge, she began working for a pharmaceutical and medical supply distribution company, where she learned about selling to the government.
“It did not take long for me to realize how lucrative the opportunity to do business with the government is. The reality hit me harder as I began attending networking events and sharing the benefits of selling products and services to the government,” Kegler said in a blog post. When she decided to look for another job on CareerSource Broward’s website she stumbled upon an ad that said, “Have you ever wanted to start a business?” She joined CareerSource’s startup accelerator and founded GovLia in 2017.
Kegler set out to develop the platform in 2018 and also raised some capital in pitch competitions, while providing consulting services and conducting workshops to sustain the business. It was all in preparation to launching an MVP in 2019.
In startup life, lessons are often learned the hard way, and Kegler learned some big ones.
“In 2019, we launched our first MVP. We connected with the City of Miramar’s Bid Program to run a beta test and the platform crashed. This was a huge setback but so much was gained from the experience in connecting with the BID team. Thee data gathered allowed us to refine the product from a user-first perspective, fire our developers and find a CTO to manage the project because my lack of tech skills was a huge part of the issue, and scale back the solution to focus primarily on the supplier diversity component of the public procurement process.”
This summer (with a new CTO), GovLia successfully launched version 2 of its platform and is focusing on building relationships with local governments, anchor institutions and large contractors.
ABOUT THE PRODUCT
GovLia is a two-pronged solution to enhancing supplier diversity.
Its Supplier Diversity Ecosystem, a software as a service solution, removes barriers to entry for small, diverse businesses and fosters collaborative and inclusive procurement. “Our Supplier Ecosystem Solution streamlines registration, certification and bidding by allowing businesses to create one profile one time to connect with multiple local governments, anchor institutions and prime contractors for opportunities,” Kegler said, noting that in Broward County alone there are 31 cities, all with different processes.
GovLia also provide services to assist organizations with developing business training programs, fulfilling the recommendations of their disparity studies, and locating qualified vendors through targeted supplier outreach and preparation. “Our team has more than 15 years combined experience in this space from multiple perspectives, and we truly believe in the impact GovLia's solutions will have on our communities,” she said.
An article published by the University of Chicago Press Journals connects the impact of city contracting set-aside opportunities to economic opportunities for the black community specifically, but all communities benefit from these programs, Kegler said. “Through the study of these programs it shows how they play a part in decreasing the racial wealth gap by 3%, showing a direct correlation between self-employment and unemployment.”
Yet these government procurement programs have not been as effective as they could be because they are hard to navigate. Many businesses who successfully complete the process of certification are not actively participating in the procurement process because they have no idea how to do it. GovLia has worked with Broward County Urban League Small Business Center to provide government contracting training to their small businesses.
“These barriers cause unnecessary complexities, amplify pre-existing relationships over transparency, and limits opportunities for small and diverse businesses. Our mission is to be the voice to advocate and provide solutions, tools, and resources to promote access to economic opportunities for underrepresented businesses. We provide a combination of people, process and technology to solve these problems and remove barriers for small, women and minority owned businesses.’
Over the next year, GovLia will focus on generating revenue, growing its team and continuously iterating and updating on its solutions. “We will also track the impact of our solution closely to identify our economic impact in diverse communities and the number of dollars circulated to minority owned businesses,” she said.
HQ: Fort Lauderdale
Year founded: 2017
Management team: Shakeia Kegler, founder and CEO; Sterling Johnson, Head of Public policy and Government Relations; and Mike Collins Interim Chief Technology Officer.
Recent milestones: Named a 2020 Camelback Fellow; Brought on Sterling Johnson as Head of Public Policy and Government Relations; Launched v.2 of platform in June and currently demoing with local governments, anchor institutions and large contractors.
Financing: Bootstrapped, but GovLia has won some pitch competition prizes including $25,000 in the Grace Hopper Celebration PitcHER in 2018. She also won Envolve’s 2019 contest and fellowship funding from Camelback.
#MiamiTech Startup Spotlights showcase South Florida-based startups at all stages. Email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.
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