IT company serves D.C. agencies from Blacksburg

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Sonu Singh. Photo by Stephen Gosling

By 2005, Sonu Singh had built and sold two IT consulting companies, but he was convinced there was a better way to handle IT. The new owners of his old company, however, didn’t share his point of view.

“I kept telling them the business model was going to change,” he says. “They kept looking at me like I was a complete dope.

“I finally said, ‘I’ve just got to stop talking about it. I’ve got to pull a team together and go do it.’”

So, in 2009, the 1901 Group moved into about 800 square feet of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center (CRC). Singh says 170 of the company’s 250 employees work at the CRC now and he expects the Blacksburg workforce to grow to 250 within a year.

The company — whose customers range from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Army to the Small Business Administration — is talking with the CRC about building a new facility to accommodate that growth.

Singh realized IT equipment and infrastructure had changed drastically, but the management model hadn’t changed in 30 years, particularly in government circles. The government was still contracting with companies that put employees on-site to manage systems. The 1901 Group offered a different approach. 

“We don’t sell bodies,” Singh says. “We sell services.”

About 80 percent of those services, he says, can be handled remotely — for 30 percent less than they would cost in D.C.

At first, convincing the federal government that its business and data can be securely managed from Blacksburg was a hard sell, Singh says. But, he adds, potential customers are beginning to understand that security has less to do with proximity than with infrastructure, networks and access control.

Edward Snowden, Singh points out, was a contractor working at a government site when he downloaded documents that revealed a secret National Security Agency surveillance program.

Singh grew up in Blacksburg, graduated from Virginia Tech and calls himself “a giant Hokie football fan.” But that’s not all that drew 1901 to the CRC.

“We wanted to locate the business in an area that had access to talent, a good quality of life and a moderate cost of living,” Singh says, pointing out that with Tech, Radford University and New River Community College, about 50,000 college students are studying within 15 miles of the 1901 Group’s CRC office. “There’s massive untapped talent here.”

There’s massive opportunity for growth, too. The federal government spends $100 billion a year on IT, Singh says. “All we have to do is bring 1 percent to Blacksburg, and we’ll be happy.”

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