Kris Lapp doesn’t know how to say no.
“My willingness to say yes keeps things going,” said Lapp, 35, a Kamiakin High School graduate. “I’ve always said if ever presented an amazing opportunity, say, ‘Yes,’ and we’ll figure out how to do it later.”
Because of this can-do attitude, Lapp’s Kennewick small business I-3 Global Inc. is being named the Department of Energy’s National Protégé of the Year at the DOE’s Small Business Forum and Expo in Kansas City this month.
DOE strongly believes in small businesses, Lapp said. Mission Support Alliance approached Lapp and I-3 Global to be a part of DOE’s mentor-protégé program.
“It allows a large government agency to act as a mentor to a small business,” Lapp said. “We do (information technology) services for Mission Support Alliance.”
At one point, MSA consisted of Lockheed Martin, Jacobs and Centerra.
“But Lockheed Martin made the decision to sell off its IT services,” Lapp said. “It made MSA nervous. But they also thought it would be great to develop a small business to fill in the gaps.”
Enter I-3 Global, a company Lapp founded in 2013 but didn’t start working for until 2015.
“I was still working at Energy Northwest until then,” said Lapp, who had established himself over the years by doing anti-terrorism work for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
I-3 Global specializes in IT/information systems, management services, security and staff augmentation. The company holds a Historically Underutilized Business Zone designation. Known as a HUBZone, this U.S. Small Business Administration program helps small businesses in urban and rural areas gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities. The company’s main goal is to support local government agencies.
It was Keisha Garcia, then the contract specialist at MSA, who first approached Lapp to join the mentor-protégé program.
“When I first started working with Kris and his staff, they were very small with only a few sub-contracts,” said Garcia, who now works for Washington River Protection Systems. “Within a very short amount of time, I had the pleasure of watching them mature into a reliable sub-contractor to MSA, all while enhancing their core capabilities.”
Garcia said that while I-3 Global started out with MSA doing staff augmentation contracts, Lapp’s company now works as the subcontractor to the help desk that supports the Hanford site.
“MSA had to take a leap of faith,” said Lapp, who had to convince the affected Lockheed Martin employees to stick with him. “It’s a huge deal. We actually provided service with a lot of transition, and we made that transition seamless. It made (MSA’s) life a lot better. We still had to go out and convince people to work for us. On Feb. 1, we signed a contract for the folks at Lockheed to work for us.”
Patrick Dessert, I-3 Global’s vice president of operations, said the 15 people who work full time for the company put in incredibly long hours to make the transition work.
“Now not only do these folks (who worked at Lockheed Martin) have the same salaries, but the benefits package is equivalent to huge corporations,” Dessert said. “MSA asked us to please make this as seamless as we can. That’s not a small feat. (Vice President, Staffing) Jessica Holloway did a great job with the benefits package. They wanted their people treated well.”
It’s worked out great, Lapp said.
“We provide them paychecks,” he said. “We’ve had 400 percent growth in the last year. We’ve already exceeded last year’s entire revenue in just this first quarter.
“Our hub has a help desk at Hanford for 7,500 people, and we have 30 software engineers,” Lapp continued. “It’s a huge deal for us in the Tri-Cities because no one else is doing it. At any time we might have 50 to 60 people working for us, but most of those are subcontractors. The community can capitalize on this. There is awesome tech stuff going on out here.”
Lapp said 80 percent of people doing work for I-3 Global are in IT services. They have an office on Clearwater Avenue in Kennewick and are looking for more office space. The majority of IT staffers are still on site at MSA.
By transitioning those Lockheed Martin workers in such a seamless way, Lapp and I-3 Global made a big impression.
“MSA applied for this award,” Lapp said. “They’re very proud of us. They told us ‘We’re submitting for this award. You’ve far exceeded what we expected of you.’”
And the chance to get more work looks good.
“The trend nowadays in big business is getting out of the day-to-day operations,” said Lapp, meaning that day-to-day tasks will go to small businesses which prove themselves.
Anyone who knows Lapp isn’t surprised.
“When I was a young kid, I didn’t know what an entrepreneur was,” he said. “But I was saying I wanted to negotiate deals. I love to create new things.”
He holds two degrees from Columbia Basin College and another degree from Washington State University. He then started his anti-terrorism career that helped feed his need to travel.
“But my entrepreneurial side started coming out. It kept telling me to ‘do your own thing,’” he said.
It wasn’t until 2015 that he finally made the break from Energy Northwest to strike out on his own.
Lapp helped found Fuse Coworking Space in Richland — a place where people with a small businesses can rent work space and work around other like-minded individuals.
“The first day by myself at Fuse was the happiest day of my life,” he said.
He also founded I-3 Global, and helped get the locally produced Solar Spirits craft distillery up and running. His interest in food trucks has him starting a video blog called Lappdaddy.
Steve Young, vice president of MSA’s portfolio management division, who also happens to be the mayor of Kennewick, has taken on a mentor role with Lapp.
“Kris is a high-energy individual who is constantly on the move, looking for ways to grow his business,” Young said. “He is always willing to take risks and most of the time it pays off. He cares about those who work for him and treats each member of his company as if they are family.”
Young started meeting with Lapp periodically a few years ago.
“I was impressed by the questions he asked, but more importantly how committed he is to the city of Kennewick and the regional area,” Young said. “We need a young upstart company that focuses on high-tech products and services that is willing to invest in the community while building a strong work force for the future.”
The Protégé award could be just the beginning for Lapp and I-3 Global.
“This is something for the Tri-Cities,” Lapp said. “I get the award, but everybody associated with us is part of it too.”
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