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Columbia defense-focused tech startup targeting multi-million dollar federal contracts

Note: This article appears in The Post and Courier (Columbia, SC). Headline date: Feb. 16, 2022

Author: Jessica Holdman

Columbia-based tech startup NineFX is joining forces with Charlotte-headquartered Meridian Technologies as part of the U.S. Small Business Administration Mentor Protégé-Program.

COLUMBIA — A new partnership is expected to give a boost to a Capital City technology startup that has made its name serving the defense sector, taking the small firm from targeting deals in the half-million dollar range to tens of millions in federal contracts.

Columbia-based NineFX is joining forces with Charlotte-headquartered Meridian Technologies as part of the U.S. Small Business Administration Mentor Protégé-Program.

“This allows us to level up in the fed space,” said NineFX founder Drew Varner.

The partners are already chasing two big contracts, Varner said, including one with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Landing this deal could put NineFX on a shortlist of contractors for any number of tasks the agency needs in the next five to 10 years, he said.

“Watching the evolution of NineFX over the last few years has been exhilarating. They have created a great blueprint for other local tech companies to follow,” said Matt Vaadi, a co-member of the GrowCo industry group seeking to increase high-tech growth in the Columbia area. “We are excited to see how this partnership elevates NineFX over the coming years and adds to the innovation economy in the Midlands.”

Meridian, which specializes in IT staffing services, brings the benefit of having the back office support system and business development know-how, as well as providing financial backing.

Where NineFX shines is in a process called SecDevOps, secure development operations, Varner said. Software inherently has vulnerabilities, he explained, but NineFX has automated a process that securely scans the software code while it’s being developed, identifying possible pathways for hackers before the technology is ever deployed.

While NineFX remains small, with just six full-time employees, the firm will be able to tap into Meridian’s staff of more than 1,000 workers.

Meridian was itself the beneficiary of mentorship similar to what it will provide to NineFX, Executive Vice President for Federal Solutions Rick Stengard said.

“It’s exciting to return that favor to NineFX and to bring our capability for building consulting teams at scale to customers seeking highly capable small businesses,” Stendgard said.

Varner said it’s hard to find qualified people with the necessary clearances, certifications and technical know-how. Meridian’s staffing services fill that need for NineFX. But the startup will also scale up its own in-house staffing as it lands larger contracts, reinvesting the big dollars back into the company.

“We want to make sure we use it as an opportunity to grow,” Varner said.

Meridian’s private equity backing also made it an attractive partner, as the owners also may choose to invest in NineFX after the mentorship ends.

In addition to landing the partnership, NineFX recently began selling subscriptions for a secure chat software it developed. Varner said the software is preferred by the defense industry because of its ability to function across multiple platforms, allowing unrelated agencies and governments to communicate no matter what differing programs they use.

“There are a lot of secure chat tools out there but that’s our specialty,” Varner said.

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