In an effort to help Israeli companies tap into the rich US federal government procurement budget, leading representatives from the US convened on Wednesday the first-ever conference dedicated to educating local small and medium firms as to how they can best sell their products in one of the world's most lucrative markets.
"Israeli companies are right now not meeting their potential as far as selling to the US government," Angela Styles, a procurement lawyer and former director of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy," told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the conference, which was organized by the Fairfax County Economic Development Association (FCDEA) in conjunction with the Israel-US Chambers of Commerce. "For hi-tech companies with great solutions, the US government is so vast and there are so many opportunities, however Israeli companies need to do their homework and they need to know how to present their products in a way which demonstrates that their solutions can make a difference."
As head of the Procurement Policy Office, Styles was responsible for managing all of the purchases in the US government's annual $400 billion procurement program, almost $300b. of which is earmarked for defense and homeland security spending. Technology purchases alone make up some $66b. in defense spending and over $5b. in homeland security purchases.
"I think that there is a significant fear among Israeli companies that in the US political environment there is a great hesitancy when it comes to foreign companies, but Israeli CEOs need to disengage from rhetoric and shift to reality" explained Styles. "Civil servants want to get their job done in the best and least expensive way possible, so if an Israeli company has the best solution they will buy from that company," she noted.
In addition to dispelling the perceived bias, Wednesday's conference, which included well known local companies such as Rabintex and Safend, focused on providing smaller operations with a sense of how business is done in the US government.
"Israeli companies need to know how to do it right, which includes language, ethics and a number of different factors," Ronen Kenam, director of the FCDEA, told the Post.
"There is a great market in the US government, but Israeli companies need to go about it in the right way. Today, Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries are doing great business, but they learned the hard way how to do it right. In the US, it is especially true that if you don't work by the rules, then you stand no chance of succeeding. What we are trying to do is help explain the rules to them to get them into the US government."
Israeli companies currently command approximately $30b. in US government contracts, according to estimates from the Israel Export Institute.
"This number should be higher and I expect it to grow over the next few years, but right now, I think that among small- and medium-sized companies, there is a fear of the type of investment it will take to secure a federal contract," Israel Tenenbaum, director of the ICT Department in the Export Institute, said.
Meanwhile, for local companies that have already established themselves as trustworthy partners with the US government, the difficult process they went through to do so could have been eased had conferences such as Wednesday's been held years ago.
"There are so many things that you have to think about and deal with, such as bureaucracy, when trying to secure a government contract and this would have been very helpful for us," said Omer Kabak of Rabintex.
Rabintex manufacturers bulletproof vests and helmets and recently won a $20 million bid for the US Army.
"The people in FCDEA are very well connected and they know the culture and the people. They open the door for many companies," Kabak added.
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