A St. Petersburg native has launched a tech startup designed to make it easier for state and local governments to do business with small companies.
The startup, GovLia, currently is operating in south Florida, including the city of Miramar. Founder and president ShaKeia Kegler hopes to get a foothold in St. Pete and to expand statewide.
GovLia is a cloud-based platform designed to simplify state and local government procurement processes. There is no one standard process — each government entity has its own approach — but all of the current processes are archaic and require a lot of time and preparation for a small business, Kegler said.
“If anyone knows anything about small business, it’s that time is one thing you definitely lack,” Kegler said July 10 at 1 Million Cups St. Petersburg. “Our solution will allow small businesses to create one profile, one time, that can be used to get registered, certified as a small business and bid on opportunities with multiple government agencies, all with one profile.”
The government technology industry is valued at $99.8 billion, encompassing nearly 90,000 state and local governments and 30 million businesses in the United States. GovLia is focused on Florida’s 460 state and local government entities and 2.5 million small businesses, and more specifically the 48,000 woman-owned, minority-owned and veteran-owned companies.
“Small business ownership is at the heart and soul of economic development in America,” Kegler said. “Our platform not only simplifies this process, it increases economic opportunity and growth for small businesses, women-owned businesses, veteran-owned and minority-owned businesses, but more importantly the community that we represent.”
There are growing numbers of women and black founders in technology, but those numbers are still relatively small. Kegler not only has come up against the challenges all startup founders face — such as how to pitch her company, speak to investors and find capital — but she’s also run into some people who associate success with white males. The process is not always an equal playing field, she said.
“I’ve had issues getting into spaces, but I’m relentless because of my time in the military. If it doesn’t work this way, let me find another route to go,” she said.
Kegler, a Gibbs High School graduate, learned about procurement during active duty in the U.S. Navy, where she purchased supplies for missiles and bombs on behalf of her department. She later worked for a pharmaceutical company, selling drugs and equipment to the Veterans Administration, so she’s been on both sides of the table.
She taught herself basic coding and design to get the company off the ground in 2017. GovLia’s team now includes an interim chief technology officer, a full-stack developer and a chief operating officer who worked with Kegler in the Navy.
“Our competitive advantage is strong. We are the first to market with a solution that’s 100 percent paperless, easy to use and accessible anywhere using a mobile phone. It increases transparency and accountability and it saves time, money and resources for small businesses and government agencies alike,” she said.
Kegler is open to outside investment, but she has bootstrapped GovLia so far, aided by cash prizes from competitions such as the Grace Hopper PitcHER18 in Houston last year. The Grace Hopper Celebration is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, and PitcHER18 was the inaugural pitch competition for the event’s producer. Kegler won the $25,000 first place prize.
One challenge in getting investment is that a lot of people are unfamiliar with the gov-tech industry.
“A lot of people are unfamiliar with how the government works and if they are, they know the process can be extremely slow. The sales cycles are a lot longer than traditional startup processes,” Kegler said. “We have to educate everyone — investors, government and small businesses.”
The company has a “freemium” business model.
“That allows small businesses to utilize the platform for free, governments as well, and then upgrade for a fee and later we’ll gain consistent recurring revenue through transaction fees with our online store,” Kegler said. “Going to market we focused on partnerships and with people already tasked with working with small businesses, and that’s what we want to continue to do, to educate small businesses.”
One opportunity that could open more doors to GovLia are ongoing disparity studies in several communities, looking at how much city business goes to minority businesses. St. Petersburg is in the midst of a disparity study, said Jessica Eilerman, the city’s small business liaison and manager of The Greenhouse, where 1 Million Cups is hosted.