By Phyllis Cunningham
“I have always felt very passionate about doing work in developing countries”
In 1991, Rosa Caldas landed in the United States without speaking a word of English. Remarkably, sixteen years later, she started her own company, ZemiTek LLC, an 8(a) certified, disadvantaged, and woman-owned small business that she founded in 2007.
“When I created my business, it was important that the company name reflect where I came from,” says Caldas. Hence, the matriarchal Taino culture and its ancestral spirit known as Zemi inspired Caldas to name the company ZemiTek. The Zemis were highly honored and known as the primary advisors to the priests, doctors and chiefs.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Caldas earned her Bachelors of Science in Systems Engineering in the Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo (INTEC) in the Dominican Republic, and her Masters of Science in Information Systems in Kingston University in the United Kingdom. Her professional career began by implementing projects in the Caribbean region. In fact, her professional work experience spans private and public sectors, in the United States and in the international marketplace.
Before founding ZemiTek, Caldas served as Project Manager for several IT companies, including ManTech International Corporation, where she led the software design and development for the US Department of Justice Joint Automated Booking System, an information-sharing program among its law enforcement components that directly supports the President’s Homeland Security initiative. For the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Caldas led the successful development and implementation of the electronic, paperless Patent Cooperation Treaty Operations Workflow and Electronic Review (POWER) system. ZemiTek continues to provide support to the USPTO as of today.
Preparation, perseverance and networking are just a few of the cornerstones of ZemiTek. Caldas admits, “Being in an industry that is male dominated, as a woman you must be very strong and ten times as good. When people see that you are prepared and know your business, you will be accepted and respected as an industry leader.” Prior to going into business for herself, Caldas started volunteering and networking at various organizations such as the American Council of Technology – Industry Advisory Council, where she would meet top executives in technology, glean from their expertise and equip herself in business areas that would ultimately strengthen her own company.
Although she was an accomplished software developer and possessed extensive expertise in management and technology, Caldas felt she needed a broader understanding of areas such as Teaming Agreements, employee systems management and contract consulting. “These are essential operational and personnel areas that will strengthen your company and yet, many small businesses fall short in these areas which are essential to building past performance and landing subcontracts with larger companies,” says Caldas.
With Caldas at the helm, ZemiTek’s expertise has expanded from implementing information technology projects to providing support in knowledge management, monitoring and evaluation, Management Information System/Geographic Information Systems (GIS), cloud-based solutions, and related training activities worldwide. The company has experienced significant growth and expansion and has provided support to eight different Federal agencies.
Since 2010, ZemiTek’s primary Federal client has been the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Caldas and her ZemiTek team have specialized in developing solutions and delivering technical assistance and training at over 60 of USAID’s missions in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East. In recognition of their outstanding performance, ZemiTek was recently awarded a five-year $24 million contract to provide long-term and short-term technical assistance and institutional support services to USAID’s Africa Bureau offices in Washington DC and Sub-Saharan Africa. The contract includes support of key presidential initiatives such as: Power Africa, Trade Africa and the Young African Leaders Initiative. “I have always felt very passionate about doing work in developing countries,” says Caldas. ZemiTek’s culturally diverse team of professionals is fluent in different languages and has the in-country experience that facilitates support to missions overseas.
Over the years, the company has provided a range of services for state and federal government agencies including the: United States Agency for International Development; Department of Justice; Department of Homeland Security; US Patent And Trademark Office; Department of Agriculture; National Archives And Records Administration; General Services Administration; the State of Maryland and the Motor Vehicle Administration.
Today, ZemiTek is a growing company that employs nearly 40 staff and consultants around the world. “As an employer, it is my goal to help my staff be the best they can be —to learn what’s important to them . . . what motivates them . . . and how to incentivize their personal and professional growth. I count our employees as a part of my extended family and I am very proud of the very positive team environment we have created here at ZemiTek,” beams Caldas. She further explains, “You have to create a strong team. Your vision of success in business will not be achieved unless you make sure that your people are treated well and they are happy about what they’re doing. You have to have empathy for your employees.”
In sharing her experiences with aspiring entrepreneurs, Caldas offers the following advice:
• Find something your really love—something you’re passionate about.
• Get clear about what you’re good at and what needs to be developed.
• Gain a deep understating of the mission and the culture of the agencies you are supporting. Target other agencies doing similar work.
• Be ethical—never compromise your values. Stay true to yourself.
• Be ready to work hard and put your heart into what you’re doing.
• Remember that you are ultimately responsible for creating a positive team environment—learn from each other and support each other.
• Focus on your client needs and what your company has to offer them.
• Always strive to deliver QUALITY!
“The road to business ownership is not an easy one,” Caldas confides. “When you decide to have a business, life will test you! You must continue to believe in your dream and trust that you will eventually see the fruit of your labor if you remain passionate about what you’re doing. And, you have to be willing to go the extra mile for your clients. Quality is king!”
Rosa Caldas also has a very keen perspective on Work/Life balance. When all is said and done, says Caldas, “Most importantly, you have to make sure that you deliver quality service to your clients and above all, you have to remember to spend quality time with the people you love.”