October 30, 2015 – Inside Business - The Hampton Roads Business Journal, By Pete Humes
While a certain tunnel has been garnering all the headlines lately, there’s a new group of bridge-builders in Norfolk who are ready to step into the spotlight.
GOV2COM is a new Old Dominion University Center for Enterprise Innovation program designed to help government contractors cross over into commercial markets. It was created by a grant sponsored by the commonwealth through the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment.
The goal of Office of Economic Adjustment funds is to help lessen the impact of defense budget cutbacks. Rather than simply dole out money to affected municipalities, the OEA seeks to create programs that will become self-sustaining once the initial funding period expires.
GOV2COM’s director is Elizabeth Dietzmann, an attorney and self-described “compulsive connector” with a unique passion for revitalizing the regional economy.
As part of the leadership of the weekly entrepreneur program, One Million Cups, she has been a vocal cheerleader for startups, collaboration and innovation. She also has worked closely building bridges between military and government service and the private sector.
“I’ve worked as in-house counsel for defense contractors, doing their business development,” Dietzmann said. “In my law practice, I’ve repeatedly assisted veterans starting companies, so I see their skill sets, and I know how challenging it can be to translate their military skills into the civilian commercial world.
“We have amazingly talented government contractors. They need to learn how to target commercial markets, develop commercial skills, foster relationships in the commercial sector. These are mature companies; they just have to expand into other areas.”
Engage her in conversation about GOV2COM’s mission, and it instantly becomes clear why the program name is in all caps. As long as Dietzmann has her way, GOV2COM will never be a low-profile, backroom economic initiative. She will ensure that it’s everywhere, engaging everyone and perpetually in motion.
When it comes to solving problems and making progress, Dietzmann has little tolerance for talk.
“I’m about as subtle as a freight train,” she said. “Rather than do it small, I want to bring all sorts of people to the table and ask them how can we do business and diversify our economy. The key is getting all of these people in the room so they can start the dialogue.”
For GOV2COM, that dialogue starts at 5 p.m. on Nov. 9 in the Ted Constant Convocation Center at ODU when the program makes its debut with a kickoff reception and presentation. One of the highlights of the evening will be a panel discussion that will feature not one, not two, but four men named Paul.
“Once I had two, I decided I couldn’t have anybody else on the panel who wasn’t named Paul,” Dietzmann said.
Included on the panel will be Paul DiNardo, a CPA with Wall, Einhorn & Chernitzer PC and chair of the board for tech start-up BNNT LLC; Paul Hirschbiel, co-founder of 757 Angels and chair of the entrepreneurship study group of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation’s ReInvent Hampton Roads initiative; Paul Robinson, president and founder of AeroTech Research; and Col. Paul Olsen, 57th commander of the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“It is so rare that we have men of this caliber who have all agreed to be on a panel,” Dietzmann said.
The discussion won’t necessarily have an agenda, but Dietzmann hopes that it sparks ideas among the attendees and illuminates opportunities for a sort of “cross-pollination” between government, municipal and commercial contractors.
“You can stand around and drink wine out of plastic glasses at any number of events,” she said. “We can listen to elected officials say, ‘Oh, we need to diversify our regional economy.’ Well, how about talking to four guys who are actually doing it? That’s my idea of an interesting presentation.”
Dietzmann’s vision for the program includes plenty of collaboration and practical problem-solving. There will be contests and challenges with multi-disciplined teams and serious prize money. There are already discussions happening between GOV2COM and thought leaders in key sectors such as offshore wind energy, cybersecurity and sea level rise.
“We’re developing a community of practice,” Dietzmann said. “The goal is going to bring together disparate parts of the business community, and let them collaborate and build relationships, because that’s how we build jobs, that’s how we diversify our economy.”
Step one of that community will be the GOV2COM website (gov2com.org), an online platform by Concursive that will act as a virtual hub to share ideas, documents and projects.
But much of the “magic” that Dietzmann sees happening will come as a result of real connections.
“I don’t do networking events because people just wander around like sheep,” she said. “Collaboration events have a purpose, and you’re bringing the right people to the room.”
The Nov. 9 kickoff event is free and open to the public.
“I want everyone to come. There isn’t anyone who shouldn’t come,” Dietzmann said. “If you want to know what our future economy is facing, you should be there.”
The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.