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EP 7 — SAS's Heather Bulk on Building a Diverse and Passionate Workforce in the DIB


On this week's episode of the DIB Innovators podcast, David talks with Heather Bulk, President, CEO, & Co-founder at Special Aerospace Services (SAS), a tactical engineering and advanced manufacturing firm. They discuss how SAS grew from advisory services to providing tactical engineering in civil and DoD industries, and how they've seen the commercial space industry grow through increased interest, funding, and demand. They also talk about how to solve the challenges of workforce development in the DIB, efforts to get more women involved, and how they build diversity starting with how they recruit.

Topics discussed:

  • How SAS got started in advisory services for clients working with NASA and evolved to providing tactical engineering and advanced manufacturing services in both civil and DoD industries.
  • How the commercial space industry has grown through increased interest, funding, and demand for new engineering.
  • Why the biggest hurdle to overcome when working with the government is compliance, and why growing companies should look to outside experts to build their capabilities.
  • How SAS fosters a culture of autonomy and "unintentional diversity" by being deliberate with its recruitment efforts.
  • The story of Deanna and how to get more women interested and involved in the space industry.
  • Why workforce development is the biggest challenge to the DIB today and the initiatives that can help solve it.
  • Why, when, and if a growing company should seek venture capital, and how SAS's bootstrapping allowed them to take more risks.

Guest Quotes:

"The awareness of space has changed tremendously, and between the marketing, if you will, and the awareness and what happens there, as a finance person, I will tell you that people start looking to place their money somewhere. Where are they going to invest? And so you've got two pillars here. One is a strong interest, and then there's the funding, and then the third element is the demand. So with these new programs, we have demand for new hardware, new engineering, new ideas."

"I have what we refer to as 'unintentional diversity,' and that stems from not only the people that we have on the team, but also where we recruit and how we recruit." 

"Today, we have many more women leaders that you can model yourself after in this industry. Not to the level that we want to have ... but we have many more leaders with the primes." 

"It's probably one of the most epic problems that we have in this industry ... of having a steady and consistent stream of folks in the defense industry base."

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