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Success allows DSFederal to focus on improving human lives

Sophia Parker started DSFederal which specializes in data analytics but works only with agencies and projects that "improve human lives."

Sophia Parker started DSFederal which specializes in data analytics but works only with agencies and projects that “improve human lives.”

After moving to the United States and earning an accounting degree, Taiwan-born Sophia Parker forged a successful career in government contracting. But 11 years ago, at age 50 and her children grown, she was ready for something more fulfilling.

“I felt I could give my clients better service with my own business,” said Parker, who left her job with defense technology industry giant Northrop Grumman to start her own company, DSFederal. “With large companies, there’s a lot of red tape and bureaucracy.”

On top of that, Parker wanted to do something more socially responsible.

“I was thinking, ‘What can I do that will leave a legacy and have a positive impact,’ ” Parker said. “Federal contractors are not known for having a social impact vision, but I decided that’s what I wanted to do – something that would not just benefit me and my employees but others as well.”

Parker accomplishes that in a couple of ways. First, DSFederal, which specializes in data analytics, works only with agencies and projects that “improve human lives,” she said. The company does a lot of work for the federal government, but most of it is with agencies like Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.

“We would never do weaponry,” Parker said. “We would not go after contracts that would not be in line with our mission or vision.”

Second, a portion of her company’s profits are funneled into a nonprofit foundation Parker started in 2013, the IDEA Foundation, which helps women and children throughout the world. Among other projects, the foundation has funded a school in Afghanistan, an orphanage in South Africa and hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

It’s a different sort of business model, especially among federal government contractors in the Washington area. But after a slow first couple of years, it’s worked.

In 11 years, DSFederal has grown from one employee (Parker) to about 160 and its revenues have soared. Over the years, the Rockville-based company has moved three times, most recently in November 2016 and always to larger quarters.

“The first two years, it was hard for us to get business,” Parker said. “But once we got some past performance under our belt, we’ve become more and more competitive at winning business. We’ve been growing steadily.”

The company has grown so much, in fact, that it recently outgrew the federal Small Business Administration set-aside program, known as 8(a), that accepts bids on some contracts only from qualified minority-owned businesses and that provided Parker so many opportunities over the past several years.

Sophia Parker started DSFederal which specializes in data analytics but works only with agencies and projects that "improve human lives."

Sophia Parker started DSFederal which specializes in data analytics but works only with agencies and projects that “improve human lives.”

“We can no longer rely on that certified work,” Parker said. “We have to be more strategic, more aligned with the market needs to be able to continually advance.”

Her association with the SBA has served Parker well: In 2015, the organization named her Maryland small businessperson of the year and the following year, they named her company a top woman-owned small business.

DSFederal is also certified as a Minority Business Enterprise in Maryland and has taken advantage of that status to win contracts in the past. But because so much of the company’s business is with the federal government, that is the focus, Parker said.

She does, however, take advantage of the state-sponsored conferences and events.

“Networking is always good,” she explains. “It’s been helpful.”
A success at both working for big companies and running her own, Parker has advice for others in the business world.

“Focus on your niche and maintain your reputation,” she said. “This (Washington) is a small town, and reputation is everything. So say what you do and do what you say, and over time you’ll be known for the type of service you have.”

Her own niche has evolved, she said, and now she wants to position her company as a leader in the field of high-end data analytics – “more of the larger, more complex systems integration work.”

As for Parker, she has no plans to retire anytime soon. She has a largely youthful staff, and working with them, she said, keeps her young. “I love mentoring young people,” she said. “I’m still having a lot of fun.

“I love it,” she added of her work. “And I still feel I have a lot to give.”

Expanding Opportunities

Expanding Opportunities

This article is featured in the 2018 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunites Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities on this website or read the digital edition.

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