Pacific Coast Business Times U.S. Small Business Administration
1st Annual Spirit of Small Business
2004 Special Report: Award-Winning Companies
SBAR – Winner: West Ventura County
“SBAR succeeds through relationship with naval base”
by Laura Polland, Technology Editor
“Santa Barbara Applied Research has had a close relationship with the United States Navy at Port Hueneme for the past fifteen years, a relationship that carried the information technology and engineering company through the lean years. SBAR’s reach has grown to encompass other bases, other branches of the military and increasingly, the commercial sector.
‘The heart of the matter.is that it’s been a long-term contractual relationship between the company and the Navy here at Naval Surface Warfare Center,” said Eric Duncan, of the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Naval Base Ventura County. ‘It’s always been a case of them performing with high quality, on time, with a good price.’
Grace Vaswani, president and chief executive officer of SBAR, said the relationship has been mutually beneficial. ‘Our core business very much resides at the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Port Hueneme. During our major reorganization in the 1990s, if we had been without the support of the base here, we likely wouldn’t be here today’, she said.
Vaswani and Executive Vice President George Hambrick, both former IBM employees, joined SBAR in the mid-1980s. It had been established in 1980, with several of its founders hailing from the University of California, Santa Barbara. That association provided the name Santa Barbara Applied Research, long a misnomer for the Ventura-based company.
The company garnered its first Navy contract in 1986, moved to its current headquarters in 1988 and got its first contract at Port Hueneme in 1989. Then in the early 1990s, it underwent a reorganization that nearly ended the business, driving it down to one employee.
‘There’s a lot of excitement in small business,’ Vaswani said. ‘The flip side is the everyday running of a small business can be very challenging. You’ve got to be determined, persistent.don’t let disappointments bring you down.’
‘I wake up every day and accept the challenge,’ she added.
Vaswani is no stranger to challenges or to opportunity. She arrived in the United States in the late 1970’s from her native Hong Kong. She worked to support her family while pursuing an education before breaking into the corporate world.
‘Coming to this country was one of the best things that happened to me and my family,’ she said. ‘While in some countries, determination and education are not enough to succeed, the United States allows people opportunities to achieve their dreams and goals,’ she said.
SBAR has more than recovered in the years since the reorganization, earning a place on the Inc. 500 list of fast-growing companies. Although the majority of its business is still at Port Hueneme, SBAR supports other Navy operations, the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force. Air Force bases such as China Lake, Edwards and Vandenburg are important to the company’s future, Hambrick said. It is also exploring Army opportunities.
This broader outlook reflects both SBAR’s growth and the decline in opportunities at Naval Base Ventura County.
‘When the economy was good, work used to come almost automatically to the different bases. Over the years, the Navy and Air Force bases have to market, to find work like we contractors do,’ Vaswani said. SBAR is involved with the Port Hueneme/Industry Partnership Council, which aims to bring work to both the base and its industry partners. ‘If the base is successful, we are successful,’ she added.
The defense industry was always challenging, especially for a small business, Vaswani said. Part of the challenge is that a business has to be good not only at what it does, but at the procurement process, she said. ‘That’s not something you learn overnight,’ she said.
Programs supporting disadvantaged small business, such as those through the Small Business Administration, are crucial to the success of small businesses in the federal procurement arena, Vaswani said. It has also benefited from good relationships with prime defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin.
SBAR has a healthy pipeline of work in the next couple of years, Vaswani said. Because government contracts can take up to two years for the application and approval process, the company is always looking forward to its next opportunity.
One answer lies in information technology for the business sector. The commercial sector has the advantage of moving more quickly than federal contracts, which opens up new opportunities such as Web-based services. SBAR’s new finite element analysis program, which provides engineering support services for companies without the in-house capabilities, is all online, from purchasing to chat with SBAR engineers.
SBAR does every imaginable type of engineering, Vaswani said. This includes general, systems, and mechanical engineering as well as facilities management, technical support, telecommunications, and information technology. “