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Small Business, Cosmic Goals

Season 1Episode 54Jul 20, 2018

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa, program manager of NASA's Small Business Programs, shares how NASA helps small businesses to get involved in space exploration and scientific discovery by working with them from the spark of an idea to literally being a part of the space industry. HWHAP Episode 54.

Small Business, Cosmic Goals

“Houston We Have a Podcast” is the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, the home of human spaceflight, stationed in Houston, Texas. We bring space right to you! On this podcast, you’ll learn from some of the brightest minds of America’s space agency as they discuss topics in engineering, science, technology and more. You’ll hear firsthand from astronauts what it’s like to launch atop a rocket, live in space and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. And you’ll listen in to the more human side of space as our guests tell stories of behind-the-scenes moments never heard before.

Episode 54 features Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa, program manager of NASA’s Small Business Programs, who shares how NASA helps small businesses to get involved in space exploration and scientific discovery by working with them from the spark of an idea to literally being a part of the space industry. This episode was recorded on May 15, 2018.

Houston, we have a podcast


Gary Jordan (Host): Houston, we have a podcast. Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 54, Small Business Cosmic Goals. I’m Gary Jordan and I’ll be your host today. So, in this podcast, we bring in the experts, NASA scientists, engineers, astronauts, sometimes leaders, and we bring them right here to tell you the coolest parts about NASA. So, today, we’re talking with Tabisa Kalisa. She goes by Tabi. She’s the program manager of NASA’s Small Business Programs at NASA’s headquarters in Washington DC. This means she helps small businesses work with NASA and get involved in space exploration and scientific discovery, working with them from the spark of an idea to literally being a part of the space industry. So, with no further delay, let’s go lightspeed and jump right ahead to our talk with miss Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa. Enjoy.

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Houston, we have a podcast.

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Host:Tabi, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. Pleasure to have you here.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Thank you for having me.

Host:All right, so your title is program manager for Small Business Programs. I honestly didn’t even know we had that, to be honest. So, what — so what is that? What is — what is the Small Business Program? What do you do?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Well, that is a great question. So, small businesses really represent the best of our nation’s economy and they have — they’re so innovative. They actually provide, you know, almost half of the patents that we get from small businesses. So, NASA has a great Small Business Program. We have capable small businesses that support each and every one of our programs. So, we advise administrator and all matters related to small businesses and we try and promote and develop small businesses within our agency and across the federal government. So, it really makes sense for us to try and engage with them and understand how they can help NASA achieve its mission. So, that’s something that we feel very strongly about, and we have had great success in that arena.

Host:Yeah. That’s — how many patents did you say? Half of our patents are from small businesses?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Are from small businesses. That’s across the country.

Host:Wow. See, I’m interested in how small businesses — like, why is it good to work with small businesses and is it almost required? Do we have to work with small businesses?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:That’s a great question. Yes, we are. We are required to work with small businesses. We do have five socioeconomic gold categories. For NASA, we have the small business goal. We have the small disadvantaged business goal. We have [inaudible] the Women-Owned Small Business goal at HUBZone, as well as service disabled veteran owned small businesses. So, NASA has done really well. We are trying to achieve our goal of 16%. We have reached out to businesses, not in our traditional areas. So, in Texas, we have great businesses, we have spent a lot of money here in Texas. But even going across the breadth of the continent, so it’s something that we look at and we think we can be able to get more small businesses to do — help us achieve our mission. So, it does make sense for us to go ahead and promote that.

Host:So, that makes sense because we’re — you know, as NASA, we get funded to do all these goals, but we can’t just — we can’t just give all the money to the big guy, right? You can’t just give it to the big contractors and let them — you got to kind of spread it out and give equal opportunity to all of these other businesses that may not have the chance of technology and just sort of build it up. And you’re right, it kind of — it kind of goes from there. You build up these small businesses and then from there, they go off and do wonderful, wonderful things.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:That is — yes, that actually makes sense. So, NASA — if you have a contract with the agency, which has a subcontracting plan, you are required to do business with small businesses. So, last fiscal year, in FY17, NASA awarded approximately one — sorry — 2.8 billion dollars directly to small businesses, that’s just the agency directly to small businesses. And our prime contractors that do quite a bit here at the agency, so the large programs, you know, like Orion, SLS, they awarded another 2.8 billion directly to small businesses. So, it was a really great year for us here at the agency.

Host:Wow. Okay, so straight from your program, but then also, there are programs here that are not just working directly but the big guys. They are spreading it out among the little guys too.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Right.

Host:That’s fantastic. I’m guessing that’s part of your vision and mission, right? That’s part of your overall goals.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:That is — I couldn’t put it any better myself. So, here at Johnson, we are — we look at what small businesses can achieve. And it’s a true testament because Johnson Space Center awarded over 2 million — 200 million dollars to small businesses directly last fiscal year.

Host:Well, good for us. I mean I actually didn’t know that we — that we worked with so many small businesses and did that. And actually, Rob is sitting right here — is sitting over here, kind — and he’s our — he’s our Johnson guy, right? You actually — you’re actually based here at the Johnson Space Center.

Rob Watts:I am on the lead small business [inaudible] at Johnson Space Center.

Host:All right. So, how are we working with these small businesses? How do we reach out to them and let them know that there is this opportunity?

Rob Watts:Actually, I mean with — it starts actually with both like what Tabi’s doing here. So, let me just say that we appreciate her being here and because — for the center, we don’t get this opportunity often, so it’s great for her being here. Secondly, we have initiative done — we reach out to try to achieve our goals. One of the things that we do specifically here at Johnson, for instance, we have our Light Manufacturing Industry Day, where we — it’s an annual event. Our second one is coming up and we kind of specialize in areas like 3D printing, additive manufacturing, and so we try to get those things as specific here to the area. As a matter of fact, we have one of the agency’s largest women-owned businesses, matter of fact, Barrios Technologies is here.

Host:That’s awesome. Yeah, he’s based off of here. And who do they work with Who does Barrios work with?

Rob Watts:They’re actually — they’re actually working with on a couple of our contracts but specifically, they’re working with ISS and doing things with the space station.

Host:Oh, great.

Rob Watts:So, it’s things like that. What we want to highlight is that we understand the idea of everybody knowing that we go to the moon but with small businesses, we want to highlight the fact that NASA needs everything that’s made within the area of spectrum business. We need it and we want to highlight that.

Host:Absolutely. And we’re going to — we’re going to sort of dive into all the different areas that Small Business Program works in, women-owned businesses being one of them, and you’re talking about these smaller — smaller — I guess you can call them demographics that we’re reaching out to that may not have the opportunity. And we’ll just sort of go from there. But going back to just kind of the basic overall mission — and thank you, Rob, for that — for that overview. Looking at the basic mission and your job being the program manager, right? But I read that you’re the program manager, you’re the communication manager, and you’re the social media manager. How do you balance all of those things?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:That’s a great question. We always try to figure it out. So, the good thing is, you know, I am so privileged to oversee this women-owned Small Business Program, as well as the HBCU, which historically, black colleges and universities, as well as Minority Institutions Program, in addition to the agency Mentor-Protege Program. So, those, we work on policy — those programs, we tend to work on our policy directives. We tend to make sure we disseminate opportunities for Women-Owned Small Businesses, for schools, for the Mentor-Protege Program. And the purpose of that program, that is one of the things that we find so in — you know, it actually gives us a lot — we get a lot of accolades. Of course, the federal government it’s one of our best practices because in that program, we’re trying to get our prime contractors that know how to do business that have done this for years and decades to try and teach small businesses how to be more viable contractors, not only to NASA, but across the federal government. So, you’re trying to get a Lockheed or Boeing to teach a small business on how to be able to have an approved accounting system, or how to be able to respond to requirements successfully, or how to get certifications.

And NASA’s program is so unique in the sense that we are the only agency that has got 10 eligible categories for protegees. No other Mentor-Protege Program, across the federal government, and we only have five, NASA is one of only three federal agencies that are approved to have — continue to have their own — operate their own Mentor-Protege Program through 2023.

Host:That’s amazing. So, that — that’s the relationship, the mentor is the — is the bigger contractor, right, your Lockheeds, your Boeings. And their protégé, the people that are learning from them, are these small businesses that may not understand very intricate details of working with the government, the forms you got to fill out, the policies you got to adhere to, and just sort of teach them along the way. How does — how does NASA oversee that relationship between the larger contractor and the small business?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:So, we always try to make sure we tell our small businesses — even tell our primes — try and find a business that you’re currently doing business with because it’s more like a marriage. NASA cannot or will not go ahead and try and match you up. You’ve got to find your own mentor, so you can actually create that synergy beforehand. Because for a lot of the small businesses, they may not have the bandwidth to go ahead and be able to do everything. So, if you’re a small business that’s really focused on trying to understand how a proposal is written, and how you’re successful at writing a proposal, or how you can go ahead and be able to get the technical expertise that makes that successful in doing NASA missions or being able to partner with our large primes, you’ve got to make sure you request that and the mentor will be able to train you on being able to deliver the capabilities that are — that you’re looking at. So, we make sure we have annual reviews. We go out to the small businesses and we meet with the small business and we meet with the large contractor, make sure the milestones are being met because when you set up that agreement, you’re saying, this is what we’re going to get done, this is how we’re going to help the small business.

And in turn, we want to make sure the small business got everything that they — that was requested of them. So, did they get more contract work? Did they get more training? Did they get additional employees out of this agreement? So, we oversee that and then we submit that information to the Small Business Administration once a year so that it can help us continue to run our program because they look at what we’re doing and if it makes sense and just continue running our program and so far, we’ve been really successful.

Host:Yeah, and if the small businesses meet those milestones, then that’s good on you, then that means you’ve done your job and you’ve empowered them to sort of build up their business.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Yup, and we go ahead and track the program for — we go ahead and track the small businesses for two years after the agreement has ended. So, we try and see, did they get more employees out of this, out of all that help and technical expertise that they received? Did they get more dollars out of it? And they — in most cases, actually, they have. They’ve done a whole lot more work and are very successful across the federal government.

Host:Yeah, you’ve got to make sure that they’re — that they’re growing, that the program is successful. And it sounds like it is. If you have one of the largest Mentor-Protege Programs, then I’m — I would assume that that means it’s pretty successful, that’s good on you for sure. So, I kind of wanted to get into the weeds of, you know, we’re talking about small businesses and we — I do want to go through the programs and make sure that we hit on all of them. But just at a high level, we’re talking about working with NASA to do what? In what areas are the — are the small businesses — I don’t know, are they — are they designing hardware? Are they — are they inventing new technology or are they doing scientific research? What areas are they in?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:They’re doing all of that.

Host:All of them. All of that and more.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:And it really is so amazing when you think of the technology that they’re doing. We have small businesses that are actually bringing technology to the agency that we’ve never even really thought about. And one of the other programs I’d like to highlight is the SBIR, which stands for Small Business Innovative Research Program. And in that program, we look at NASA’s technology focus areas. So, NASA has — we have a wonderful cadre of — this is what we’re looking at. This is our interest areas, our interest topics. How can you help us achieve that? So, they’re reaching out to small businesses and asking, how can you help us be able to hopefully — not only land on the moon but be able to drill — maybe set up a drill that’s going to be able to get the technology back to us at a certain time. So, we have these wonderful technology areas — focus areas and we look at small businesses to give us that, you know, to give us a path forward. And we have seen a lot of success in that program and it’s run out of the space technology Mission Directorate. And then also, they have another program, which is the Small Business Technical Transfer — Technology Transfer Program, which really, the acronym is STTR.

Host:We love acronyms.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Right. And so, what they do is they, you know, they — you’d get a small business to partner with an institution or school to be able to respond to NASA solicitation topics, the technology focus areas that we’re looking at. So, you have highly skilled small businesses. You have businesses that even do landscaping, that might do construction, that might look at — of course, SpaceX is a wonderful example. SpaceX used to be a small business, and everyone knows SpaceX and knows what they do. But it’s that’s another success to what we’re doing. It’s another testament to what we do. Another small business that you’d be surprised to know about that’s now large is Sierra Nevada, that used to be a woman-owned small business that many people don’t even know about and now they’re working with us in the Commercial Crew Program. So, how lucky could we be?

Host:Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, they actually — I think they got — they got onto the CRS2 contract.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Exactly.

Host:They’re going to be delivering cargo soon.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Host:So, it’s happening. It’s in motion. I didn’t know that. They were small businesses. And was it through this program that Sierra Nevada —

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Through — they used to do work at NASA as small businesses.

Host:At small business, very cool. Wow. That’s incredible.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Yeah, so that’s always the — one of those interesting dynamics. Another small business that’s actually been bought out was SGT. That used to be really, really small/ They grew and expanded. They were just put out recently by KBRwyle, one of your large prime contractors that does business here, so that’s just a testament to what can be done, how to achieve [inaudible] the agency and, you know, it’s limitless.

Host:This is — this is going to be probably a pretty big question. But do you have — do you have an idea of how many small businesses we work with now or maybe have worked with cumulative — oh, boy, cumulatively? There it is, sort of.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:You know, we work with so many small businesses. So, just to give you, you know, an understanding, we have over 2,000 small businesses that have worked on the Orion or have benefited from the Orion Program.


Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Over 2,000. With SLS, we have over 850 small businesses that support that program.


Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Currently. With ISS, we have over 200 small businesses that support the International Space Station. So, when you’re looking at how many businesses — and that’s just a couple of projects. So, we have so many projects and small businesses providing support every single day and doing great at it.

Host:And to clarify, they’re U.S. businesses —

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Correct.

Host:But they’re all over the U.S.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Yes. So, a perfect example is with the Orion Program, you get over 2,000 small businesses that have — that have participated, got money, dollars out of that program in 49 states and Puerto Rico. So, that’s a huge testament to what NASA can do or what even our prime contractors are doing and how they’re trying to reach out to small businesses in areas that you don’t even think about [inaudible] have centers in.

Host:Wow. Yeah. Literally — yeah, empowering the economy, I guess you can call it, from all over the U.S. Wow, you’re raising small businesses everywhere, that’s incredible.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:That’s exactly it.

Host:I kind of wanted to go through some more of those programs, if you don’t mind, too. One of the ones was Historically Underutilized Business Zone, this is an interesting one. What’s that?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:So, it really — the purpose of that program is to invigorate the economically depressed areas, the local areas that do not have as much — as many jobs, as many folks out there. So, there are designations that the SBA determines an area is a HUBZone. But one of the purposes of trying to utilize that program is you’re going to have at least 35% of your employees live in that area so they can stimulate the economy there. That is one of the hardest socioeconomic category goals to achieve because out of the not 24 CF4 agencies, only nine of the federal agencies met that goal and the goal is 3%. It’s a mandated goal but set by, you know, SBA that Congress has input on. But it’s wonderful to know that there are opportunities out there for HUBZone companies, but we don’t have as many. Unfortunately, HUBZone companies don’t know about NASA requirements so we’re trying to find them and they’re getting some work with us.

So, a perfect example is we have a small business out of Marshall, Link Research. And what they’re doing is that they’re going to the local communities and local schools and they’re invigorating that area and that ecosystem. They’re teaching students how to be — how to be more financially — they’re teaching students how to do better about money or how they can get more. They’re actually even helping single mothers provide daycare facilities for their kids so that they can actually go out and work. So, they’re actually thinking of different ways that they can be able to provide input and provide assistance for the areas that they’re serving.

Host:Oh, that’s wonderful. I should probably take that course too, I think I spend a little too much money. That’s pretty cool though. So, it’s — you have these — you said requirements, you’re required to have 35% of your business be in this area. But sometimes it’s hard to meet, so some — sometimes businesses don’t necessarily meet the requirements, but you still have to enforce them, right? So, how do you — how do you do that? How do you try to push them towards meeting their — the goals?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:So, we are going to be participating at a HUBZone event in Dallas on Thursday, May 17th. But the good thing is that we are trying to find those HUB — HUBZone companies. So — but only do you have to — need to have 35% of your employees live in a HUBZone. It can be a different HUBZone in a different area, but it’s got to be a HUBZone. But you also have to have your principal office in that particular area. So, it’s not only looking at work and seeing the work being done and then living somewhere else. So, it’s interesting, when you think of how small businesses, make sure that they can be able to enforce that and be able to still maintain their [inaudible] status. So, I know of a small business that went ahead and bought an apartment building next door to his office, just so that he could say, you know, my — the employees, hey, you can live here, you get a subsidized rent and it’s actually easier. So, that he could make sure his employees — and they were renting apartments from him, but it’s a much cheaper — at a much cheaper rent price.

So, for the employees, they really loved that. And he managed to maintain his status, as well as doing work and being able to provide services, not only for NASA, but of course, the federal government.

Host:Yeah. And you say — so it was SBA was the one that —

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Yes, they go ahead. We have the HUBZone map. So, if you went to and you look up HUBZone, there’s a HUBZone map. So, you have put in your zip code and it’ll — it will determine if you’re in — if you’re in a HUBZone or not.

Host:Oh, okay. So, it literally — it literally keeps track of what has — what is underutilized.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Correct. Yes.

Host:That makes sense. All right, so that’s one thing. And you actually — that’s cool, you’re going to an event just coming up in a couple days here and going to focus on empowering those businesses there.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Right.

Host:Another one is we have Veteran Owned, we have Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Are — which ones are the ones that you work with more closely?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:I work with all of those. So, one of the things I wanted to make sure I pointed out to you is NASA has — is the only federal agency that has a 1% goal to do business with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as Minority Serving Institutions. So, we understand that we have a technology focus as an — as an agency. And we look at schools and academia to help us make sure we can achieve that. So, we have technology that we’re hoping we can get us to the moon and back even further along. And we’re looking at academia to say — help us achieve that mission, to provide us the technology that we need. And we have seen some success in that. That’s not only grants, because typically, schools are very used to receiving a grant from, you know, even — you know, even from NASA. But it’s a contract. You — so, with the contract, you have to have a deliverable, so you’ve got to deliver something to us. And I’ll give an example of Orbital ATK. You are familiar with them. Through the Mentor-Protege Program, they helped Florida A&M; University by doing a study. they actually commissioned the — you know FAMU, as its affectionately known, to go ahead and do a study and that was on a NASA requirement.

And they were able, and they were successful, and they provided the documents to Orbital ATK. And they managed to get paid for that, but they were meeting our requirements and a prime contractor was utilizing this school.

Host:And how did that — I’m kind of curious on how that works because you have — you have students there and are they the ones doing the work? But they’re the ones that are sort of rotating through, right? They go, they get their degree, they’re out. And how long is this turnaround process?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:So, in that particular case, the students were doing the work. There were — it was also overseen by the professor — the professor. So, it was mechanical engineering, it was a mechanical engineering focus. They had to submit the work to Orbital ATK’s engineers. They worked closely with the schools, as well as the professors, to make sure that they could deliver the requirements, which they did. But it was a wonderful opportunity for the — for the students to say that they were doing work on — just even having that in your resume, saying you’re doing work for NASA, working on a NASA requirement, that was excellent. And a lot of those students actually got hired not only by other competitors within the — within NASA. [Inaudible] other prime contractors went ahead and utilized that and said, hey, you’ve done work with NASA before and this is what you worked on? I want to hire you.

Host:Yeah. That’s — that’s — you’re literally doing it from the ground up too. You’re supporting the businesses, but the businesses have to have expertise somewhere. So, why not go to the students who are learning how to do that and introduce them, hey, by the way, space is a business that you can actually enter into and become a part of.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Exactly.

Host:That is wonderful. I see where all these programs are sort of coming together, right? You’re sort of hitting all the different spots and really empowering the economy from the ground up, that’s pretty cool.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:So, when it comes to Women-Owned Small Businesses, I wanted to make sure I pointed this out to you. It is one of those areas that NASA has had such a hard time trying to meet that goal. We have come so close, so we’re currently — last fiscal year, we got to 4.8, the goal is 5%. We — we’re just there, so I think we’re going to be able to hopefully exceed that goal. But we have a number of Women-Owned Small Businesses that are doing great work here at the agency. So, for National Small Business Week, we went — we went ahead and highlighted a couple of Women-Owned Small Businesses that we think are doing great work and we wanted to make sure, not only our customers, but also the public was aware of the good — great work they’re doing here at NASA. We had one of the businesses we featured was Barrios Technology and not only are they supporting the International Space Station but they’re providing support, not only in safety and mission assurance, they’re doing a lot of work. And one of the interesting things about that company is their very first contract that they received was a prime contract, which is really hard to do.

For their very first contract was a prime contract. We had civility management solutions. The head of the company used to work at NASA. She used to work in HR. She was a contractor to HR. A [inaudible] vet. She served her country, did great work at NASA, and kind of thought this would be a wonderful way for her to be able to help NASA grow. And so, she started this business. It’s been really successful, doing great work. And we had — we were excited enough to bring her in and say, you know, tell us about your journey, tell us about your story. And she told a great story and a lot of small businesses that were on the line on one of our webinars were just so impressed by the opportunities that she had within the agency. So, I think that made a difference because it actually showed that it’s achievable at NASA. Small business is achievable at this agency. You can achieve success. You can achieve a length of breadth of opportunities. You can network and be able to provide support with our missions.

Host:That’s right. And who better to enter into business with NASA than a person who used to work at NASA? [Inaudible].

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Yeah, and then one of the other small businesses was MTS Systems — MTI — MTI Systems, I’m sorry. And she used to be a scientist out of Goddard. And she started her own small business, it’s not only doing work with NASA. She’s doing work with the Small Business Administration, with NOAA, and small business but doing great work across the government. So, that is a testament, another testimony.

Host:Yeah. Yeah. Imagine the impact you can have if you if you sort of broaden your scope a little bit too. You can — you can work with NASA, but you said — you said NOAA too, and reaching out, and empowering others that way, that’s fantastic. So, is there a reason that we categorize — that we have these categories, that we — that we purposely focus and have a program for Historically Underutilized Zones, and for Women-Owned Business, and for Historically Black Colleges? Is there a reason that we’ve picked some of these segments the way that we have and sort of — and sort of gone after them?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:So, the Small Business Administration does go ahead and determine what the goals are going to be in Congress in — especially in the Small Business Administration. So, we have those five gold categories, small business, small disadvantaged business, Women-Owned Small Business, Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, and HUBZone Small businesses, those are — those are the five gold categories. For NASA, our goal is 16% for small business. For SDB, which is Small Disadvantaged Business, those are minority-owned businesses, the goal is 5%. For HUBZone, the goal is 3%. And for Service Disable Vet, the goal is 3%. And Women it’s 5% goal. And they grade all federal agencies. So, one of the things that that we are excited about is for FY17, NASA got a grade of an A in our small business procurement scorecard. So, the fact that the SBA looked at what we’re doing, as an agency, looked at the numbers, looked at the initiatives that NASA has, we did such a great job.

And I really have to thank our prime contractors because they not only did the hard work, but they supported us in making us — or helping us get to the A and that really made a difference for us as an agency. We came from C to a B and now we’re an A agency, so that’s something that we’re really excited about. They just released the scorecard results and I believe it’s actually going to be released tomorrow, so we should — we should have that out by the time this airs.

Host:That’s great. That’s really great. So, how are the — how are the larger contracts helping? Is it — is it primarily through this Mentor-Protege Program or is it through maybe subcontracting or [inaudible]?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:It is through subcontracting — Mentor-Protege and subcontracting. But they are — they have a mandate. So, they have a goal on their contracts, those goals also flow down to their contracts. So, in their contracts, they’re just trying to find those viable small businesses to do — to work with, so who are going to be able to make sure that can deliver, can work all contracts, perform successfully. So, when a prime contractor finds a company like that, they are excited because, not only will they go ahead and promote the company, but they will actually be able to do work with them for years to come. And that really makes a huge difference for us.

Host:Yeah, because then it’s its long-term, right? It’s not just teaching them and then okay, you’re off on your own. Now you’ve developed this relationship.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Yes.

Host:That’s the way to do it. So, I’m trying to think of — you know, there seems to be a lot of opportunities and a lot of businesses that are — that are entering into this space, but I still feel like — and maybe this is my own naivety, but I didn’t know this was happening. I didn’t know that there were so many small businesses working with NASA. So, one thing you talked about real quickly was Small Business Week. I’m guessing this is a great way to introduce businesses to these opportunities. What happens during Small Business Week? And I think — I think we just had that, right?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Yes, we just — Small Business Week was — that’s come up every year. The President issued a proclamation and announces a particular date, so it varies. It might be the April May timeframe. And one of the things that — at least this year, it was April 29th through May 5th. And the Small Business Administration and other federal agencies recognized their standing work that the entrepreneurs do across the federal government. So, for Small Business Week at NASA, we always have a theme, so NASA’s theme this past — this past National Small Business Week was Women, it’s achievable at NASA. So, Women-Owned Small Businesses. So, we highlighted the Women-Owned Small Business Program. I didn’t mention Mr. Watts and his team went ahead and actually — went ahead and appreciated and recognized the Women-Owned Small Businesses that do work here at Johnson because they are one of the few centers that are actually exceeding the Women-Owned Small Business goal. The goal at Johnson is a 3.1% and they currently did 3.3% for Women-Owned Small Business.

So, they have a lot of small businesses that they’re currently working with. We were very fortunate to have Miss Krista Paquin, who just since retired, go ahead and, you know, create a video, just thanking our businesses and touting some of the work that they are doing at the agency. And so, we run a social media campaign. We shared that on our social media pages. We’ve received over 86.2 thousand views on Twitter, which is the largest [inaudible] ever received. That was — that was amazing for us, so we were excited about that. And the poster was the highest, you know, like I said, highest rated we had on our Facebook account, we had over 432 likes and 172, you know, mentions, so that’s something that we were excited about. And we really appreciated the fact that the Headquarters Office of Communication and across the centers, they were part of this and it really makes a difference for us to be able to recognize them and thank small businesses for the contributions that they give to NASA.

Host:Yeah, so it’s a way for everyone to sort of come together and almost celebrate then, yeah, the work that’s been done. Is there — is there outreach programs, where you’re going out and actually saying to — you know, and saying, this — here’s an opportunity, we want you to — we want you to come.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:So, we have a number of various opportunities. One of the ones that we focus with — we’re focusing on regional events — outreach events that are in nontraditional areas. For a number of years, we have gone to different centers. We’ve had industry days at different centers and it makes a difference because then we get to know the small businesses within the local area. Two weeks ago, we were in Chicago at the Federal Reserve Bank, so went out, reached out to small businesses in the Chicago area, and we had a number of them that actually are capable of doing business with NASA that we had never known about. So, they were excited about hearing about NASA and then we were excited about learning about their capabilities. So, in that case, we always make sure we reach out to our regional procurement technical assistance centers. The purpose of those centers is just to help small businesses provide support. So, if you don’t know how to respond to a solicitation or proposal, you could go to your local [inaudible] there, the acronym is, and reach out to them. And they can potentially help you review your proposal, provides — provide comments.

They have training, they have webinars for small businesses. So, they have a wonderful database. And so, we make sure that we can leverage that. Just hey, we’re coming out to your area, could you please announce that we have opportunities for small businesses? And I want to just make sure I also mention we have a small business app, and that really makes a difference. We’re the only federal agency that has a small business app. But the purpose of that app is for you to understand how you can reach our small business specialists, how you can reach our technical advisors because we have folks with — at each of the centers that there are more technical than you and I, and they understand times when a small business comes in with this amazing requirement or amazing idea and they can be able to — to be able to channel that and direct them in where they need to go, how best they can get the support that they need, or how best they can get the technology infused in our missions. So, they do a great job. But you could always go to the app and be able to pull that information. You can actually also go to the app and know how we’re doing in terms of our contracts. So, these are the goals we are not meeting, these are the goals we are meeting, and you use that to leverage your understanding of how can do business with the center because then you understand, this is what I need to do.

So, if Johnson is not making a goal — and of course, because we love Houston, right — so let me say, Johnson is not making their HUBZone goal. A HUBZone company could be able to go to the app, see that Johnson is not making that goal and then reach out to Mr. Watts. And say, hey, you know, these are what our capabilities are. How can you be able to let us know how we can provide support to you as an agency, or as a center as an agency? So, it really makes a difference. And then we also have a quiz. So, you know — yes. If you’re ever bored and you really want to know about small business, come — go ahead and take our quiz and you get graded right away. And we also have our large reoccurring buys. What that means is that every couple — of five or six years, NASA has a requirement. We have a follow-on requirement. That might change, we have a different acronym name, as usual. Do you want to mention one of the ones that you have a Johnson, by any chance?

[ Inaudible ]

Rob Watts:Contract that’s coming up, the Safety — Safety and Mission Assurance Contract that’s coming up, so that’s one of our reoccurring ones that we have. We also have a [inaudible] Contract, which is our engineering contract that’s coming up. So, it’s a five-year requirement, so [inaudible].

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:So, once it’s been renewed, we say, you know, as a small business, you need to go into our contracts and know if you’re an IT company, if you’re — if you’re — you provide admin support services, if you provide environmental remediation, all of those reoccurring buys are in our app. So, it’s easier for you to use that as you long term research — market research to be able to figure out how you can target being one of those successful — well, one of the successful companies that responds to the requirement later on, so use that for your — for your market research.

Host:So, it kind of — it kind of guides you through how to work with NASA, but then also lists opportunities that may be coming up, or are going [inaudible] the future, and status on how you guys are doing, and making sure that, oh, maybe this is a space that I want to enter there, they’re doing pretty successful.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:That is exactly it.

Host:What? They’re beyond their Women-Owned Business Goal in Houston? That’s fantastic. Props to us, for us. And then if you want, you can take a quiz, too.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Hey, I want to know more about small business, right? And we, you know, we say, hey, we have — we are coming maybe to an area near you, so this is why you want to reach out to us, and so hopefully you can get to know about what we’re looking for, and hopefully we can find a way to work with NASA.

Host:Yeah. You list your tour schedule in there.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Exactly.

Host:You know, I’m kind of interested — this is kind of a left turn, but you’re speaking so passionately about small businesses. I wonder like how did you get into this space? How did you get into the small business space?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Okay. I used to work for a small business years ago so, a small business that was so small, it was so small that I used to — you know, I used to sweep — I used to vacuum the floors. We used to go out and run copy. We used to do everything ourselves because small businesses are so nimble. They can be able to respond to a requirement quicker than a large business can because a large business has got to go through different layers to respond to — a small business will work on something, get it done, send it out to you, and be — make sure that they can give you their response you need in a shorter time. So, I worked for a small business that I was successful enough to work for a business that had a contract at the Pentagon and I [inaudible] working at the Pentagon, supporting the Army Small Business Office. Then I moved on to Department of Defense Small Business Office and working in Policy and Mentor-Protege Program there. And then NASA came up — an opportunity came within NASA and then I started working here as a contractor. I loved it for another small — I’ve always worked for small businesses. So, I understand how hard it can be, as a small business, when you’re not sure if you’re going to be able to make payroll and the support that you can provide.

So, I worked for a small business that currently even now has work here at Johnson, and is doing quite a bit of work, a Woman-Owned Small Business. And then I applied for a civil servant position and I was very fortunate to get to be selected, so this is how I got here.

Host:That’s a wonderful story because you — who better to help you as a small business than a person who has been the person sweeping the floors of a small business herself, who knows what it takes to run and operate that thing?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:And it was hard.

Host:Yeah, I can imagine because already, I mean the thing I brought up out front is you’re the manager of three different things, right? So, you’re program manager, communication manager, social media, this is probably where you learned it, right, in your business days, because you’ve got to wear all the hats. You’ve got to — you’ve got to be the person that takes the call and fills out the finance form and then sweeps the floor when it’s all done.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Yes, and you have a smile on your face, right?

Host:Exactly and then you got to go to your clients and say — and say yeah, no, I love doing this, this is great. I’m not tired, I’m totally sleeping [inaudible].

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:If you find a small business that actually only works an eight-hour day, that is really not possible because small businesses really work a whole lot more. The owners of these businesses sometimes have to even mortgage their houses. They have to max out their credit cards. Rob — Robert and I, yesterday, were talking to the head of Barrios Technology and she was telling us how her husband had to go ahead and cash in all his shares in the company he used to work for. She went ahead and maxed out her credit cards because she wanted to buy this company and she really believed in the possibilities. So, the fact that you have such an amazing belief and know that you can be able to provide work for an agency, not only at NASA, but across the federal government, and then you are successful at doing it, that’s the best estimator of it all. It’s just wonderful, the opportunities that you can be able to provide.

Host:Those are always great stories to hear, you know, small businesses that — because really, it is — it is risk to do that, you know? There’s a lot that goes into it. And so, I love stories like that, where someone puts their heart and soul into the business and heart and soul, money, right, and maxing out their credit card, and it’s — it all comes back and it’s worth it. Now you’ve got this business and you’re working directly with NASA and you’re making space happen, that’s — space exploration, space — you know, research, scientific research, you’re making it all happen, so that’s wonderful news.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:So, if you’re ever interested in knowing about some of the success stories that we have at NASA, we have this wonderful case for small business series. So, it’s really a case — a testament to a number of different businesses that, you know, do work across the agency on this specific project. So, we have one for Orion, we have one for SLS, we’ve got — we’re actually working on one for the International Space Station. And we’re highlighting those businesses that do really amazing work. We had one for the Mars Rover. We’re going to be working on James Webb Telescope. So, you know, it — it’s a publication. We can send it out to any of our — any of your listeners who might be interested. We just send it out to you and you can read more about what small businesses are doing at the agency.

Host:Yeah. You know, I’m seeing a pattern here within the — within the Small Business Office. It seems like you have — you have all these programs to — where you’re selecting and kind of categorizing where you need to — I guess put your efforts. But a lot of your efforts is in information and resources, in developing these tools, and apps, and whatever, where businesses can come, and you can literally hand them the product. You can say, this is what you need to know. So, it seems like — it seems like maybe your expertise in the small business realizes, you know what would be really helpful, you know what would help these small businesses understand what they need to do is this product, or this product.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:That is exactly it. So, we understand — recognize small businesses don’t really have the time to look — you know, anyone looking at NASA says, this is overwhelming, how can we get — how can I get work at NASA. So, we have a NASA vendor database and it’s another tool because it’s — we have small businesses going and registering when our contracting and acquisition personnel are looking for small businesses that are capable, they do searches and run reports on that. They use that as their market research to determine how to set the goals that we are going to — that we have on our current contracts. But another great feature about this, NASA’s — sorry, NASA vendor database is large primes register in that database. And when they’re looking for small businesses that they can partner with, they can also do a search for those small businesses and then reach out to them directly. So, we’re giving you an opportunity, as a small business. This is free. This is all free. Our app is free. The [inaudible] database is free. Pease go in and register, just because we want to make sure that you can get the opportunities.

People network with people who they know. So, you come to one of our outreach events, please know you’ve got your elevator speech. Please make sure it’s actually — when a — when a large prime asks you what you do, you better have that correct answer and say, I’m a small business, this is what I do, and this is how I can help you achieve your goals. They will be more receptive to hearing how you can be able to support them, and not only support them, but also support the agency that they support. Because the good thing is that a KBRwyle or Boeing, not only supports NASA but supports other federal agencies or departments across the federal government. So, that really makes a difference if they see that you’re capable, you’re viable, you’re performing really well. They might put you in another contract at another department, that might be more work for you and definitely, it just shows that you can be able to achieve anything.

Host:Yeah. Yeah. You can — you — there are so many opportunities. There’s so many ways that you can I guess succeed in this business. You know, you were talking about developing personal skills too. You were talking about having — having an elevator pitch. And yeah, that’s more of that resource, that’s more of that informational sort of thing, but it seems like there’s an even larger component of — I guess you can call them soft skills and having the people skills. It seems like you have them too, it seems like — you know — yeah. Because you have a lot of energy when it comes to talking about small businesses and maybe it’s your passion for working in them and empowering others now. But I feel like that translates really well to selling the idea of working with NASA and that must come from whenever you talk to small businesses that they realize that there’s an opportunity. Do you have — do you have a sort of vibe that you present to small businesses whenever you’re pitching to say, hey, you should come work for NASA?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:So, one of the things that I think is very interesting is whenever you look at the NASA budget video, anything that NASA does — or go to NASA TV, and you see what NASA does, you know that in every facet, small business can support whatever they’re doing. And I always make sure I mention that. You need to understand, one of the largest companies here that did business, DB Consulting, that does business here at Johnson, but I mean even a Glenn Research Center, they used to even, you know, do almost anything and they just keep growing and getting bigger. So, I always try to say, oh, I understand, and make sure I go out to meet small businesses, and understand what they do, and how they can help us. Because if I know that this is what you’re capable of and I can find a way for prime reaches out to us and that happens all the time when they say, hey, Rob, can you tell us, we’re looking for a particular Woman-Owned Small Business, or a small business in — that does work in a particular Naik’s code, he can reach out and run the reports. And as long as they have given us permission, because you’ve got to go in and check that box that says, yes, we allow you to share information, and we do.

They can reach out to the small business specialist and he will — he or she will be able to go ahead and — go ahead and make sure that they can make that connection. So, NASA is unique in the sense that each of our centers has got an own — their own procurement shops. So, they’re their own fiefdom, so to speak. So, each small business specialist at those centers knows what their requirements are and then they work with their office of procurement, which is our largest customer, to make sure that they can find, you know, businesses — small businesses in those areas to go ahead and make sure that they can get that information out to them and tell them, this is how many businesses that can — that could potentially do this work. So, it really makes sense for us to not only try network but it also makes sense for us to understand what you do. So, if you’re a small business and you’re really interested in this in the federal government, you need to reach out to us, tell us how you can help us to meet our mission. But not only that, also tell some of your success stories, or some of your challenges. One of the areas we’ve been looking at, and I think we’ve been successful in it, is trying to teach small businesses by having our webinars and saying, hey, we have a webinar on anything that you might be interested in right now across the small business arena.

We’re looking at category management, that’s something that’s really huge for a small business and how it will impact you. We’re looking at small business lending. I talked about how a small business maxed out their credit cards, but there are small business loans out there, loans that are actually guaranteed by the Small Business Administration that many small businesses don’t even realize that they have — they can actually go ahead and leverage or actually be able — they’re eligible for those loans. So, later on next month, we’re going to have one of our small business lenders talk about what you need to do if you’re a small business that is interested in exporting outside of the — outside the country, you probably would like to reach out to MBDA. They have a wonderful export control webinar, which is great because you need to understand what you need to do, as a small business, operating here within the country, and how you can be able to take advantage and make sure that you’re successful across, you know, across the — one of the different continents.

Host:So, I’m — I kind of wanted to end with this, because we’re — because we’re ending on our time right now. But, you know, you’re already pulling these different elements, but let’s just say — let’s end with this scenario. If you were to go up to a small business who had no idea that NASA was an opportunity, what is your pitch? What is your pitch that you are going to them and saying, hey, based on your business, this is why it’s good to work with us?

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Small business is big business at NASA and it makes a big difference. So, we talked about some of the large businesses that are doing business right now. They used to be small businesses. So, you can be able to achieve that here at the agency. We just need to make sure we get you the right resources, know where you need to go for you to be able to make — to make an impact here at the agency. So, I would encourage any small business — if you’re not even really sure where you need to go, reach out to our office. Our number is 202-358-2088 or come to — go to our website and send us an email or send us an email at, it’s very simple. Where do I get started? And we can point you in the right direction. We’ve got a video on what you need to look for. We have got a 10-step program — process, this is what you need to do, this is how you register your company, this is how you talk to small business specialists. But we’re giving you the tools. A lot of times, we might not get it right, so you can actually be able to help us help you, and that’s what I really need to — if there’s anything that I would encourage a small business to do, help us help you because chances are, you can help NASA achieve its mission.

Host:Yeah, I love that. You have — this is an opportunity for you to grow. We have the resources that’s going to help you do that and this is going to be a long-term relationship with us, where we’re going to be helping each other. I love it.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:I couldn’t have said it any better myself, [inaudible]. Thank you so much.

Host:I don’t know, I like your version [inaudible]. Well, Tabi, thank you so much for coming on and talking about this wonderful Small Business Program.

Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa:Thank you so much again for having me. We’re really excited about our small business specialists doing all the hard work. They make us look good, so we cannot thank them enough for the hard work that they do and also our prime contractor community. They really support us really well and we cannot do it without them.

Host:And thank you, Rob, for chiming in.

[ Music ]

Host:Hey, thanks for sticking around. So, today, we talked with Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa about the Small Business Programs up at headquarters, something that is very new to me, but it was a very interesting conversation. I’m really glad that she can come on. So, we — they actually have their own podcast, it’s interesting, it’s called the Small Business Learning series. And you can go find that, that’s another NASA podcast that you can tune into, otherwise you can listen to us. We have episodes — this is Episode 54 but really, you can listen to any of them in any order. It really doesn’t matter. Otherwise, you can listen to Gravity Assist, that’s another one up at headquarters, hosted by Dr. Jim Green about planetary science, or you can listen to NASA in Silicon Valley, that’s over at the Ames Research Center, and they talk about some of the great things they are doing over in California.

So, small businesses — if you are a small business and you’re listening to this and saying, yes, I want to be involved with NASA, you can go to and that’s one of the websites that you can actually go and check out the Small Business Program, and it gives you the resources, and how to apply, and the — just sort of gives you an overview snapshot, I guess, of the landscape that is the Small Business Programs of NASA. Otherwise you can download their mobile app, which is the Small Business Programs app at NASA. So, you can follow us along social media, the NASA Johnson Space Center on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you go to either one of those — any one of those social media platforms, use the hashtag ask NASA, and we will — just make sure to mention it’s for Houston, we have a podcast. Submit your question or maybe an idea for another episode and we’ll make sure to address it on the later episode or dedicate the entire episode to it. So, this podcast was recorded on May 15, 2018. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Kelly Humphries, Katherine Brown, Pat Ryan and Bill Stafford.

And thanks again to Miss Tabi Taliwaku Kalisa and Rob Watts for chiming in and coming on the show today. We’ll be back next week.