Michael Hawkins, 37, is CEO of Netizen Corp. in Allentown. He founded the company in 2013.
Hawkins, a U.S. Army veteran, previously worked for federal agencies including the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, leading developers, testers and analysts in the engineering and security of health-related systems and applications across the nation.
He has a degree in computer science and business administration from the University of Maryland.
Outside of work he enjoys working with technology and cybersecurity, reading non-fiction novels, and creating and developing new software.
He also has a strong interest in aeronautics and astronautics. He participates in amateur rocketry.
LVB: What have been some of Netizen’s biggest challenges and opportunities? What are some of the perks of being a veteran-owned business?
Michael Hawkins: We’ve had great experiences with the Lehigh University SBDC/PTAC and LVEDC/AEDC organizations. Outside of that, it seems there is little real support in the area for businesses that aren’t developing apps or manufacturing products, for example. Companies that are predominantly service-based, though they are the chief engines of job creation in the country, are looked down upon even by state-funded venture organizations and incubators in the area whose primary mission is, ironically, to create more jobs. A lot of institutions in the area also don’t understand our primary market, the federal government, so it is hard to get places like banks to understand how we operate.
As far as opportunities, the biggest ones for us lie in our expansion into the commercial and defense sectors with products to help companies and federal agencies manage their cybersecurity risks more effectively.
One of the perks, if you will, of being a veteran-owned business, besides set-asides for government contracts, is the sense of camaraderie you get with other veteran-owned enterprises. We are a community that supports one another, generally, and like to see each other succeed. We understand the sacrifices each has made in their lives, and, as such, we give back to the community and fellow veterans as much as we possibly can.
LVB: What is your guiding philosophy as a business leader?
Hawkins: I have two – one is “give first” and the other is, simply, “proceed as if success is inevitable.” Give first, which I learned from a TechStars program called Patriot BootCamp I participated in life, promotes the free and open exchange of ideas, information, experience and advice with no expectation of anything in return. It has been one of our defining mantras at the company. The other philosophy, “proceed as if success is inevitable,” is one which has helped me through the lean times early in the company’s life – it is designed to motivate someone to push through the difficult parts of entrepreneurship, as too many people simply give up when the going gets tough.
LVB: What have been some of the most notable projects that you’ve completed on a local level?
Hawkins: We support a number of large customers in the region – ones that have been in business for decades or longer and are well known across the nation or world. We also support small and midsized companies across the area and beyond. Each project, in its own way, is “notable” to us. I will say, however, that supporting Lehigh Carbon Community College programs and scholarships has been one of the most rewarding and fruitful parts of our community outreach programs.