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Special Operations contracts could boost local businesses

Mark Parker



Pat Mack (back left), CEO of PVM, leads a presentation to the Global Special Forces Foundation's leadership team. Photos provided.

The “it’s all about who you know” philosophy rings true in the defense industry – and local small businesses hope to forge new collaborations with the region’s extensive Special Operations Forces (SOF) community.

So PVM CEO Pat Mack reached out to the Tampa-based Global Special Operations Forces Foundation (GSOF). The nonprofit’s leadership team recently visited the St. Petersburg Maritime and Defense Technology Hub for a tour and to hear how the facility, and many of its tenants, are uniquely suited to handle specialized – and typically secretive – SOF contracts.

The March 24 event’s overarching goal was to introduce the GSOF team to some of the Hub’s nearly two dozen organizations, showcase the building’s capabilities and explore potential partnerships.

“I think we’ve all heard the saying; if you want to go fast, go alone,” Mack said. “If you want to go far, go together.”

Headquartered at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, the U.S. Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) budget has increased alongside its role in national defense. In 2022, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported SOCOM’s annual funding soared from $2.3 billion to $13.7 billion following the 9/11 attacks.

Military contracting, particularly on SOCOM initiatives, requires secure communications. More specifically, it necessitates a U.S. Department of Defense-accredited sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF). The unique rooms and data centers guard against electronic surveillance and prevent classified information from leaking to outside sources.

Mack held the GSOF presentations inside the Hub, the region’s only facility outside MacDill. He explained that when SRI (formerly the Stanford Research Institute) owned the building, the room received Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information accreditation from the national intelligence community.

That classification is among the highest security clearance levels and requires employees to receive a “counterintelligence-scope” polygraph exam. However, the facility lost that accreditation when the city took control of the building in 2021.

“So, one of the things that I’m actively engaged in is to get the SCIF recertified to make it a resource for small businesses,” Mack said. “So you don’t have to take your ass to MacDill, Stuart or Orlando to go after secure work. So, any help the Foundation (GSOF) wants to give us on that would be greatly appreciated.”

Pat Mack (second from right) with the GSOF team outside the Hub.

Located off Gandy Boulevard in Tampa, the GSOF’s mission is to build and grow an international network of military, government, commercial and educational stakeholders to advance special operation capabilities and partnerships. According to its website, the Foundation “serves as a ‘go-to’ SOF organization outside of military and the government.”

Its Advisory Council includes several former U.S. – and two Jordanian – generals, alongside a myriad of other high-ranking military officials. While not a traditional charity, the organization’s SOF for Life platform helps special operations personnel transition from military service to civilian employment.

Col. (RET.) Stu Bradin, president and CEO of the Global SOF Foundation, founded the organization in 2014. He said it now features over 5,000 members in about 60 countries.

The Foundation also boasts 205 corporate partners and 153 of those are small businesses. Mack’s PVM joined about eight months ago.

“We convene the community, and we are the Department of Defense’s National Military Association for Special Operations (SpecOps),” Bradin said. “We’re lucky because special ops are very, very relevant, and so it makes it easy for us to do what we do.”

While several Hub tenants already contract with the military – particularly the U.S. Coast Guard –  they now hope to utilize the GSOF’s connections to bolster SpecOps work. PVM analyzes and disseminates sensitive data, and Mack noted SOCOM’s leadership invests hundreds of millions into a similar but much larger company, Palantir.

“And you could argue that the return on investment hasn’t been optimal,” he added. “We’re squarely focused on getting an increased return on that product by working closely with the SOF communities to include local partners.”

Mack explained that many small business owners forego applying to SOF requests for proposals, as their company can only complete a portion of the contract’s requirements. However, leases mandate collaboration among the Hub’s tenants.

He said joint ventures would allow local, small companies to fulfill those contracts and increase investment returns. Mack also called the facility’s SCIF the “secret sauce.”

Lauren Bell, community manager for the Hub, noted the building has seven rooms eligible for SCIF certification. Adding to its uniquely suited features are chemical wet labs, conference space and Port St. Petersburg access.

Collaboration is one of the Hub’s guiding principles.

A host of potential government, private and academic partners serve as neighbors in the one-square-mile St. Petersburg Innovation District. Mack said a similar facility will open in Tampa in 2026, but the Hub is “ready to go.”

He spent the past few months recruiting GSOF’s leadership for the trip across the bay and emphasized the organization’s value. Mack also believes that partnering with Hub businesses provides a mutual benefit.

“The beauty of having this as a city-owned facility is that the goal is to make it a shared space,” Mack said. “So, you don’t have to know somebody who knows somebody to get in and use it. If there’s a need, we’d like to be able to service that need.”

Other local companies showcased at the event included vessel tracking solutions provider and National Data Center operator Pole Star Defense; Virtru, which optimizes data formats to protect highly-sensitive information in dangerous environments; Real Random, an encryption company that secures unmanned systems; Summit Exercises and Training, which focuses on terrorism preparedness and infrastructure protection; Saildrone, with its global fleet of uncrewed surface vessels; and SofWolf, the Hub’s nonprofit anchor with a focus on teaching Gold Star children.






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