Alumni Spotlight: Sowmya Hariharan of Om Group Inc.

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Sowmya Hariharan of Om Group Inc, an alumna of the 2017 Emerging Leaders Detroit cohort, was recognized by Bank of America in their #WomenSmallBusinessMonth campaign for her exceptional work as a female entrepreneur in tech. We sat down with her to talk about her achievement, and to discuss how her experience in the Emerging Leaders class contributed to her achievement.

What motivated you to start your business-- what problem/issue were you trying to solve?

OM Group started in 2001 with one employee – my husband. We doubled in size in 2003 when I joined him. 10 years later in 2013, he decided he wanted to dissolve the company, because running a business was no longer what he wanted to do. I bought him out, instead, because I was enjoying the work. At the time, OM Group was providing IT services to various small to medium-sized businesses. I was content to continue the business as it was, growing it steadily. However, my sister, Sangita Subramanian, had a different idea, a bigger idea. Sangita could see the potential in me and the company. She even agreed to work for the company, if I decided to run it. That was a big deal for me. Not only are we sisters, we are also best friends. I knew that we could do something great together.

We restructured OM Group and changed course to focus on government contracts, setting a goal to be a top federal government contractor offering leading edge IT services. Sangita’s drive and commitment have been pivotal in getting us to this point. After taking over the company in 2013, I immediately applied for certification from the U.S. Small Business Administration to participate in its 8(a) Business Development Program. As an Asian-American, I qualified to participate in the program. Sangita joined the company in 2015. 

Our company exploded over the last three years after we identified our new market – the federal government – and focused on our new clients’ biggest IT pain points. We went from two employees in 2015 to more than 50 today – that’s three years of a lot of sleepless nights. It’s a journey that I’m immensely enjoying, working with my sister to help our employees and our clients sleep soundly even if we are not.Currently, we are working with various departments to migrate their existing applications to the cloud, even as we are looking ahead to what the next big trend will be in the world of IT. Prior to the Emerging Leaders Program, I earned the SBA’s 8(a) certification in 2013 which opened the doors for government contracts. As an 8(a) company, we were able to qualify to apply for contracts specifically set aside for businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals belonging to a minority group. However, it took us about two years to land our first federal contract in 2015. When Om Group received its first federal contract, we had five employees and revenues of less than $300,000. At that point, Sangita and I were working in the business and taking very little pay.

How was your growth before you took the SBA Emerging Leaders program? And how does that growth compare to now?

By October 2016, we won three more prime government contracts using our 8(a) status. We grew to 15 employees and increased our revenue to over $2 million. Our clients include the US Army Reserve, US Army, US Army National Guard, Air National Guard and the US Department of the Navy. With most of the federal clients being in the Washington, DC, metro area, we opened a satellite office in Reston, VA, to facilitate improved in-person interaction and to be more responsive to clients’ needs. Sangita and her family relocated from Texas to Virginia where she manages our Reston office.In 2017, I was honored to be one of 15 New Jersey small business owners selected to participate in the SBA's Emerging Leaders Class. The course covered the specific challenges that small business owners like me face. One key lesson I learned was the difference between ‘working on the business’ versus ‘working in the business.’ I learned how to take a bigger view and learned to delegate, so I could work on the business.By the end of 2017, before I had the full benefit of the Emerging Leaders course, I was able to make changes that led OM Group to double its staff and triple its $2 million revenue from the year before.

 How did you feel when you were featured in the Bank of America ad?

It was an honor and very humbling to be recognized by this well-respected, international company as a stand-out women-owned business. The competition was impressive. We were excited to see all of our efforts, and those sleepless nights, recognized. At Om Group, Sangita and I work very hard to cultivate a family culture with our entire team. We have an amazing team of dedicated professionals working with us. It was gratifying for all of us to see the company name highlighted. I have a teenage daughter, and I think that this serves as a great example for her to see her mother and her aunt featured as strong leaders in the business world.Here are links to our SM posts. Inserted at the bottom are screengrabs of the FB and Twitter posts from Bank of America.

 How does your being recognized by Bank of America position you to think about the future of your business?

Being noticed on the national stage has motivated us to do better. As our visibility grows, expectations from our team, our community and our clients grow. In order to meet those expectations, we are looking over the horizon to what is next in our industry, and trying to stay ahead of the game. We have obtained certifications like the CMMI (we are at level 3 for both Services and Development) as well as ISO 9001 and ISO 27001, which demonstrate our ability to deliver consistent, repeatable and high-quality results that are grounded in well-defined processes, and ultimately benefit our clients. Om Group has a solid track record in IT system implementation and sustenance in commercial and government sectors. Our core services include advising clients on IT Strategy and Operations, building Enterprise IT Solutions including custom software and systems as well as offering Program Support and technology solutions for environmental compliance and conservation programs. We have expanded our service offering to include cloud migration and information assurance services.

Last year, we won our first competitive bid, which was a task order to migrate applications to Azure cloud for the Headquarters Department of Army under the ACCENT vehicle. A couple of months ago, we were one of 10 awardees on the USDA Cloud Adoption BPA, yet another competitive bid. In this world of constant business disruption, no industry is immune to change. You have to learn how to stay on top of the trends in your area of business. At Om Group, we are working on ways to incorporate DevOps, Big Data analytics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). I don’t know which opportunity will be next, or exactly how it will look, but we are excited to see where this business takes us next. This recognition is just the kind of positive reinforcement that inspires us to set the bar higher, and work harder to reach it.