By Grace Austin
Dwayne Hayes, President of Exalt Integrated Technologies LLC, is an African-American, service-disabled veteran who was named on of the top five entrepreneurs in Atlanta by Business to Business. Hayes used unorthodox methods to parlay relationships and strategic alliances into a multi-million dollar IT consulting business. Exalt is currently executing IT consulting and product contracts with federal government agencies, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Hayes joined the Air Force in 1983, working in various units and specializing as an engineering technician. Hayes began using computers in the latter part of his nine-year career in the military. Although always interested in computers and technology, it was this time that laid the framework for his IT firm.
In the past decade, Hayes sought to capitalize on the rapport he developed with several strategic IT professionals who established strong relationships and partnerships with the public and private sector. These relationships and partnerships enabled Exalt IT, founded in 2004, to gain access within the traditionally exclusive federal government sector.
“I think one of the challenges working with the federal government is getting to the point where you have past performance, where you’ve actually provided services or equipment. One of the challenges is to understand that you start small; you start with an opportunity, and expand on it.”
“I have been able to use contacts from my previous background in the Air Force and understanding how the military does business to start Exalt,” said Hayes. “I wanted to utilize resources that were there to enable our company to go from a start up to a more established company.”
Hayes believes the key to his success was to understand and execute “smart teaming.” What began as a single consultant has now grown to a 20-member consultancy with a revenue of $5 million in 2011. Hayes also managed to create exponential profits despite a tough economy.
Although the economy has not been a major challenge for Exalt, Hayes has faced other barriers in establishing his business.
“I think one of the challenges working with the federal government is getting to the point where you have past performance, where you’ve actually provided services or equipment. One of the challenges is to understand that you start small; you start with an opportunity, and expand on it. Accessibility to funds and duties, trying to build a relationship with a financial organization to back you, is also a major challenge. A lot of businesses don’t have the financial backing upfront to serve as a financial foundation,” said Hayes.
Hayes encourages recent veterans to start their own businesses. For Hayes, spending time ensuring “everything was aligned” was important before venturing out on his own. Hayes also made sure to receive necessary veteran and minority-certification to aid development. Hayes, though, believes principles taught in the military will aid veterans in entrepreneurship.
“Some of the core values the military operates on will go a long way. Most of the military people I’ve come across are professional people, and have in their core the need to do the right thing,” said Hayes. “Anyone who starts a business should not get into business because it has a lot of revenue; you need to bring skills, knowledge, and a foundation of what you can offer.”