In 2000, Alfredo Casta launched information technology business from his home. Today, he has 87 employees and takes in nearly $10 million in revenue.
As CEO of Cascades Technologies in Virginia, Casta has turned his entrepreneurial fire into a thriving IT company.
But it was a long journey for the Puerto Rico-native. His ride to success was anything but predictable.
After 10 years with the Department of Labor, Casta, who holds a computer science degree from Sacred Heart and a masters degree in Information Technology from George Washington University, grew tired of the federal bureaucracy. He wanted his own business.
So, while working with Labor he began to do IT consulting work in the evenings and on weekends.
"Through word of mouth and reputation I was able to get more and more work. After a while the load became too much so I left the Labor Department and went into IT consulting full time," he said.
At first the plan was to offer government-consulting work as well as serve commercial clients. Through the initial years, he partnered with such companies as Canon and Minolta and offered such services as imaging and document management. He also offered Web site hosting services.
"That's how I got my start," Casta said. "But the business was heading away from hosting. The network support work I was doing translated into creating applications and the transition was more into program and product management support and security. When I saw that I was heading into that direction I questioned what was our passion. I decided that our passion was in systems development, applications development and programming, and product manager support. So I decided to focus on that." He dropped hosting.
"By dropping hosting I eliminated the noise," continued Casta. "I could focus on what I did best. And the other work was driving 80 percent of my revenue anyway. So it was a natural decision."
According to Casta, start up costs were about $7,000. He noted that he financed the start up with the money he made on his initial contracts. His overhead was low -- he worked out of his home and all the work was done electronically and was Web related. He traveled some to clients' offices for onsite work, but he didn't need a staff of workers to service his client base until about May 2000. At that time, he began to recruit a staff. And by November 2000 he had an office. That year, Casta said the business generated about $560,000 in earnings, which he recycled back into company equipment and infrastructure development.
Government Work Pays Off
Casta also applied for and received 8(a) certification through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The certification can be used by Hispanic-owned businesses as a way to compete for jobs against the bigger companies. "It was a fairly easy certification to obtain," said Casta. And he further obtained a Small Business Disadvantage Certification from the SBA. "This was for minority owned businesses or businesses that were economically challenged," he said.
He noted that 80 percent of applying for this certification involved the 8(a) Certification. Most of the work was done, so he was able to get the Disadvantage Certification quicker than normal.
The Disadvantage Certification along with a GSA IT-70 Schedule provided him with a vehicle with which he could reach out for government contract work.
"This allowed me to contract directly with the government and some times to get work without bidding against competition," said Casta. "It streamlined the procurement process."
Today Cascades Technologies's work is exclusively government contracting. According to Alfredo, 60 percent of its total revenue is from the Department of Labor, about 15 percent from the General Services Administration and 25 percent from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). His services at NIH include trial and inventory management as well as the IT portion of life sciences.
According to Casta, his biggest obstacle when first starting his business was marketing. "Getting my name out there personally, as well as the business' name, was a challenge because I was wearing so many hats," he said. "How do you go from being the marketing/communications guy to the proposal development person, to actually executing and doing the work?"
He overcame this obstacle by recruiting good support people to his business. "A mentor I had when I was with the Department of Labor said, 'Surround yourself with good people and you can get things done.' So that's just what I did. I recruited some really good folks seven years ago who are still with me today and I am benefiting from a great management team."
He recruited people through word of mouth and networking. "I let folks know that I needed people," he said.
There were key moments events that give him confidence in his business' future a success. For example is when in 2004, Cascades picked up a significant contract from the Department of Labor, a contract that provided funds allowing him to grow the business.
He has been able to use government contracts to expand into other categories of service to other government agencies and departments. For example, Cascades was selected by the Department of Defense to provide information technologies support for a blast injury research program. This was a valuable opportunity for Casta to collaborate with military medical institutions, research departments at universities and other medical institutions. And his involvement with NIH helped him get the contract. Now he is trying to expand into intelligence using his involvement with the Department of Defense. And to show that he is serious about this, he plans to go back to school to obtain a doctorate in security.
Resources in His Roots
As the business has boomed, Casta has not forgotten his roots. In fact, his childhood in Puerto Rico helped shape his business vision.
His father was a Captain in the Public Health Service Branch of the Armed Forces and his mother took care of the children. He is the oldest of four kids -- three girls and a boy.
Soon after he was born, the family moved from Puerto Rico to the United States and from that period until he finished 3rd grade the Casta family lived in Texas, Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia. They returned to Puerto Rico where Alfredo attended middle school, high school and college.
Keeping hold of their Puerto Rican roots was important for his parents. They made certain that he and his sisters retained their Spanish during their stay in the States. "At home it was always Spanish. Mom made sure we didn't forget our Spanish," said Casta.
This connection to his roots encouraged Casta to establish Cascades Technologies of Puerto Rico, which has created a workforce.
"About two years ago we set up shop in Puerto Rico in order to recruit workers faster," he explained. "Unemployment is much higher in Puerto Rico than it is in the U.S. But by setting up a sister organization of Cascades there I have been able to recruit the cream of the crop. It gives me the ability to be able to go after more work and know that I have a back up workforce that I can tap quickly when I need it."
According to Casta, he has invested $200,000 to develop his reach into Puerto Rico.
Casta and his company have been recognized with various awards. For example, the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce has recognized the company as "An Outstanding Business" and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce has selected it as one of the Fantastic 50 four years in a row. It has also been recognized as part of the Inc. Magazine 500 for three years in a row and the Inc. 5000 this year.
He serves on the Board of Directors of the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce and he is a member of the Economics Committee of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
Alfredo has been married to Enid Casta for 12 years and he has two children, a girl who is 6 years old and a boy who is 4.
While he couldn't have predicted his current success from where he started, he's now able to "call his shots" in business. Casta has set a goal for Cascades Technologies to generate revenue of $40 million a year within the next three years.
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