Earlier this Spring we announced the 2023 Engage FedGov Honorees, a list of exceptional individuals who were nominated, evaluated, and selected by a panel of their peers, and represent leaders from across government and industry who stand out from the crowd for their willingness to drive BOLD approaches and innovative engagement strategies while supporting a culture shift across the Federal sector which values collaboration, open communication, transparency, and partnership between and across the Federal government and industry partner ecosystems. 

We caught up with David Yang, Senior Vice President at ICF to draw from his experience as a leader within Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. Federal Government. He shared the insight and perspective he has gained from serving on multiple boards including ATARC and AFFIRM and from serving as a Captain and Volunteer Firefighter/EMT with the Prince George’s County Fire Department, MD. Curious to know why small business is important, the value of being forthright and finding your differentiator, some essential dos and don’ts, or how being a first responder gives him real-world perspectives on his clients’ mission needs and challenges? Read on.

Embedded in DC and in Small Business

Growing up in DC, bringing perspective from working for and with many small businesses over his career, working for a company that, over its history, has acquired some small businesses, David brings deep perspective of the small business landscape, the owners, CEOs and others who support those businesses.

“The community is highly entrepreneurial, and they bring a level of agility and innovation, a ‘get it done’ spirit that you have to value. We all have big challenges we are working to solve and partnering with the right small businesses can move things in the right direction.”

Following their passions, putting everything they have on the line, these leaders go out on a limb to do their part to serve the public sector- many of them being former Feds themselves.

Forthright from the Go

Meeting with many small businesses through the many hats he wears, David says that being forthright from the get-go is key. Whether it is addressing questions about potential formal or informal partner opportunities, being willing to be candid benefits everyone.

“There are a lot of small businesses out there and people with a lot of ideas. I make sure people understand that it is a crowded market. I may provide advice on what I see as the key investments to be made and recommend to anyone I speak with that they understand their differentiator and the value it brings.”

With a crowded small business marketplace, including the 8(a) and SDVOSB landscape, he says it is important for business owners to really understand what they need to do and the commitment it will take.

Not Easy Success

Seeing the success of some of the small businesses he worked at, it makes sense that others would want to replicate that. “I would tell anyone that it may have looked easy, but they did not see the blood, sweat and tears behind the scenes.”

The same is true for businesses as they grow. “It doesn’t ever get easy. The work, looking at where you are going to be sure you evolve as you grow, that never stops. Keeping up, getting ahead, making investments… there is never a time, even with a company like ICF, that you stop and just coast.”

His messaging for small and growing businesses is clear: “It’s always going to be all hands on deck, with everyone aligned to the same message.”


The number one tip for small business: Focus on one or two things and be well-known for those capabilities. “Beyond ensuring you have revenue to keep things going, know the one thing you really want to do, that you have the skills for and can develop a niche in. When companies come to me with a long list of all they can do I stand on the ‘yes, but what do you really want to do’?”

That focus not only helps small businesses as they go about making connections and presenting their case, but it also helps those within ICF to understand where certifications and expertise reside and where partnering makes sense.

That same advice applies to the teens out there. No, this isn’t family advice… it is advice for those larger small businesses who have or may be on the verge of graduating. “As a mid-tier business who may no longer have that socioeconomic status to open a door, knowing who you are, being able to show and create value in your niche will remain your strongest differentiator.”

Fight the Current

There may be a tendency as companies look to identify their area of speciality to lean into the key words of the day, to ensure you don’t miss the boat by using the buzzwords. “But you know everyone says they are an AI company or a data analytics company or a CX company now. You need to look at your portfolio, at where you are really successful and see if you can carve out a differentiator from that.”

There is also a huge opportunity for those mid-tier companies to be leaders. Whether it is banding together where they are, adding small businesses under their own umbrella, or leading a team of small businesses with niche capabilities, driving a solution that pulls in several pieces of a larger puzzle can make waves.

Value the Conversation

Saying that everyone is busy – the government client, the potential business partner, the advisor – it is important to remember that every conversation is time out of someone’s workday. “For most people, those conversations are not really what they are there for so make whatever time you have in front of someone, make it impactful.”

Saying that you are either winning or losing brand with every interaction, the takeaway is that the listener’s perception of you will not remain the same. You will either add trust, perspective and value, or you will do something to leave a negative impression. “

Go Beyond to Know Your Client

While David’s role as a volunteer firefighter may seem out of place in the GovCon space, it is very grounded, both in DC and in supporting his clients. “I was a few miles south of the Pentagon during 9/11. I was shocked, incensed and decided I wanted to do something to help people.”

He has been a volunteer firefighter ever since. Under ICF, supporting the missions of DHS, First Responders and others on the frontline he says it keeps him grounded, in touch in a small way with what clients may be dealing with. “It helps me better understand how we provide value, how we support them in the very best way.”

Do and Don’t

  • Don’t go into a meeting asking basic questions.
  • Do take five minutes to do some research, read the about us page. Check for recent news, budget announcements, leadership changes, legislative hurdles.
  • Don’t go into a meeting reiterating someone’s mission. They know it.
  • Do go in knowing their goals, their pain points, their forecasted work and challenges.
  • Don’t ask someone to repeat or explain themselves.
  • Do know their acronyms, their lingo.

About David Yang

David Yang serves as the Senior Vice President for Digital Transformation at ICF, with responsibility for advancing digital transformation and IT modernization solutions to ICF’s commercial and government clients. Prior to joining ICF, David held leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. Federal Government, including the Library of Congress. He has spent more than 30 years working and consulting in the public sector and private industry, focusing on providing strategic technology advisory services. David serves on several boards including the Advanced Technology Academic Research Council (ATARC), the Association for Federal Information Resources Management (AFFIRM) and is an Executive-in-Residence at the Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets in the Robert H. Smith School of Business and is a member of the Master in Business and Management Advisory Council at the University of Maryland. He also holds the rank of Captain as a Volunteer Firefighter/EMT with the Prince George’s County Fire Department, MD. David earned his B.S. in Advertising Design from the University of Maryland, M.S. from the School of Communications at the University of Baltimore and a Graduate Certificate in Non-Profit Management and Leadership from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.



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