SimpleSense is a first-of-its-kind, information-sharing platform that improves emergency response times by “de-siloing” data between public and private security teams. By securely enabling interoperability of critical data between parties, this technology has the potential to save over 100,000 lives per year.
Since the company’s inception in 2017, the team has grown from 3 expert developers to 14 skilled professionals with backgrounds in policy, public safety, and defense analysis, half of which are United States veterans. The newest addition to the company is retired Military Officer and founder of 247 Group, Jim Damato.
With two decades of risk management, security, and anti-terrorism experience, Jim is a seasoned emergency expert. He has operated in both the public and private sectors as a Security/Police Chief, Division Chief and Deputy Director in the Air Force, and as the Owner of Command Integrated Security Solutions and 247 Group. As a seasoned expert in safety and risk management, he joined SimpleSense as our resident subject matter expert and program manager.
To welcome you to get to know him, we sat down with Jim to talk about his history in both the public and private sectors, why he thinks startups and the government should work together, and how SimpleSense can help the military.
Q: Can you tell us how you learned about SimpleSense and the process of coming on board?
JD: I met Alex and Eric at an AFWERX Fusion event in Las Vegas, Nevada. I pitched a base-defense-of-the-future solution, using networked unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to dominate outside the base’s perimeter.
Q: Can you tell us about your experience in both the public and private sectors?
JD: I’m a retired Military Officer. I spent 25 years active duty in the Air Force handling security enforcement protection work, as a team leader in Special Operations, and then I transitioned to the Air Force acquisition community. Having experience in both operations and acquisitions, I understood the customer’s needs and concerns better than a solely security or acquisition-focused person.
On the private sector side, I had always wanted to start my own small business. I had a lot of entrepreneurial-minded people in my family that mentored me. I loved serving in the military, but it had always been my goal to start my own company. So, after I retired, I started one.
Shortly after, I met Alex and Eric at that AFWERX event. Alex called me one day and said, “Hey, we’re working on this Air Force protection project, and I remember you had an Air Force protection background.”
I originally on-boarded with SimpleSimple as a consultant to help them grow into that Air Force Protection Security Forces market. Then, that relationship just continued to get better and better.
Trust across two small businesses is hard to replace. The trust in that relationship ultimately led to us doing more and more work together. And now, I have decided to join the SimpleSense team in a full-time capacity supporting the Installation Resilience Operations Center (IROC).
Q: Why are programs such as AFWERX and DIUX so important?
JD: The people who work in government are so busy with their primary job that it’s challenging for them to find time for additional market research and find the best companies with the best technology at the best price. Because they don’t have the time, it’s often the “easy button” contracting large military-industrial companies. Validating that a small business can deliver what they are promising can take time that often is not there in Government Acquisitions.
Decision-makers in the Government sector know these large, well-established companies will charge more and aim to vendor lock the Government. But if you’re a military program office who’s already maxed out their bandwidth, you’re not going to invest research into a tech startup that you’ve never heard of.
Programs like AFWERXs and Defense Innovation Unit (DIUX) are really important to bridge that gap and have helped the Department of Defense bring in better solutions at lower prices. They’ve started connecting startups like SimpleSense with the military and give the acquisition community better insights into small, innovative companies.
The government would not be benefiting from SimpleSense’s partnership had they not been involved in these AFWERX events. Programs like AFWERX help smaller companies compete with multibillion-dollar behemoths and their paid lobbyists. Ultimately, the new AF innovation ecosystem championed by Dr. Will Roper is bringing in higher quality solutions and agile processes at a lower price — and often without the long-term vendor lock that large military contractors thrive on.
Q: Why is it critical that startups and government work together?
JD: Smaller companies are much more efficient. However, the government also sees startups as a risk. They often incorrectly equate size with competence.
But let’s say you’re a big military-industrial complex company. You have an established knowledge of what you think the Government is willing to pay for a particular service and then you build your program costs to that known Government benchmark. Big companies know that the Government cost estimation data is drawn from the previous big company contracts. A company like SimpleSense would analyze that project without a preconceived idea of what the Government paid on that last big contract so it approaches the project from a zero-based workload and cost estimation. Small companies like SimpleSense use efficiencies that come from the civilian sector to lower costs, not to build a program up to an assumed Government ceiling.
It’s not like these large companies are actively gouging the government. But they have such large overhead and make profit in different ways. But a company like SimpleSense looks at problems from a new perspective and says there is no way that that project should cost a billion dollars. SimpleSense is small, has less overhead, and their work process is incredibly agile.
With SimpleSense, there is no wasted time. They use modern tools, communicate effectively, and get the project done. In a traditional military company or a military office, these projects might take months of meetings, whiteboarding, and churn. All of those months equal time, which equals a lot of money. SimpleSense’s processes are very different.
Q: What does your role look like at SimpleSense?
JD: I’ve made it my mission to streamline our processes and bring more value to the government. And I think it centers around thought leadership. My goal is to bring speed and reduced manpower, which equals better value to the acquisition community.
I also think that my operations background can help decision-makers think strategically about the end product they provide. The acquisition community is too often disconnected from the operations. While I’ve seen some great acquisition programs lead to excellent capabilities in the field, I’ve also seen many that led to nothing but frustration. Because I’ve been on the military operations side, the military acquisition side and now in the civilian sector, I bring a good view of what acquisition success and failure may look like.
There are times when decision-makers in the military acquisition process don’t have enough on-the-ground context to recognize the impacts of delayed implementation. The effects aren’t felt in the acquisition office, but if you’re a warfighter in the field who desperately needs that new capability, then delays can be fatal or mission impacting. Warfighters in the field don’t care about the latest buzz words, marketing pitches, or Pentagon tribalism—they just need the capability “on time, on target.”
Q: Where do you hope to see this company in a year from now, five years from now?
JD: I would like to see SimpleSense as the model for how government and startups can work together. I also see SimpleSense aiding our military by helping them acquire the best technology for the best prices, efficiently and effectively.
SimpleSense will be a kind of shepherd that highlights how organizations can use an agile, lean approach. The culture in SimpleSense isn’t to make money quickly; it’s about proliferating effective processes and technology, and then naturally, success will come.
Q: How do you think SimpleSense’s technology, in particular, can impact the public sector?
JD: The military and the civilian technical sector should have a cooperative and supportive relationship. Too often I’ve seen distrust between the military and the contractors providing goods and services. That is a terrible way to start a relationship. The civilian sector can learn a lot from the military in terms of its superb culture, fortitude, and how it does its advanced research. Likewise, the military can learn from small businesses how to be truly agile—not just use the word on a slide deck.
This relationship is reciprocal. As the military learns from companies like SimpleSense, we, as small businesses, also take away a better understanding of the military needs and feed those back into the civilian sector.
There are many lessons to be learned in complex military integration efforts, and if you export that knowledge back out to industry, it better informs investors and startups.
I think where SimpleSense brings the most value is as an objective integrator of complex data problems. Because SimpleSense is not trying to sell a single solution or a piece of hardware that does it all, the military can rely on them as a partner to give them the best advice that’ll create long term success.
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