Early last month, Ideal Technology, a computer-forensics company, won a $65,000, six-month contract from the Defense Department for developing portable systems designed to quickly mine data from computers captured from enemies.
"We are taking a slow, homegrown approach," vice president and co-founder Jordan Jacobs said. "We aren't venture capitalized. We don't advertise. We didn't hire a lobbyist. ... We just do lots of pitches ourselves to government entities and to geeks. We're trying to do things differently."
Jacobs believes his firm won the contract because of Ideal's expertise with "open source," a type of software that includes code that can be examined, modified and copied without threat of copyright infringement. A November 2002 study by Mitre Corp. for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) found that there were 115 different types of open-source software used in operating DISA computer networks in 251 different programs.
Microsoft has been lobbying the Pentagon, Congress and the Bush administration to stem the growing use of open-source software such as Linux and has argued that the open nature of the technology can make it more vulnerable to attack.
"Microsoft spends more money on advertising and promoting their products than we ever hope to make," Jacobs said. "But I think there is a growing interest in open source, and more companies are adopting the open-source model."
Though Ideal does not employ a lobbyist, it sees an open-source advocate in Tony Stanco, director of George Washington University's Center of Open Source and Government, which is tracking governments' use of open source. Jacobs said he has been invited to give presentations at Stanco's periodic conferences, which has helped him gain connections in Washington.
Jacobs previously worked for Lockheed Martin, while his partner, company President Douglass Hock, worked in a research and development division for the Army. Those experiences enabled the partners to start the firm with a list of potential clients, Jacobs said.
Ideal also used Defense's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to get the contract. The small-business program generates bids for applications twice a year and aims specifically at small companies. Jacobs said a great benefit to the program is that his firm gets to keep the intellectual property it develops with the research program money.
"It's a great program for small companies," he said.