Thank you all so much for this helpful info (and I do appreciate the overexplanation!).
I should have clarified two things: 1) We haven't signed anything with any prime yet, we have only been in talks with one (well, now 2, since I posted). But the product we offer is so new, and only 3 other US startups do the same thing (and I'm not sure how many of them are doing business with the government), so I believe it would indeed give a prime a significant advantage.
here_2_help brings up the USG Small Business Administration and the idea of doing business directly with the government. I have worked with federal contractors for 20 years as a writer. I'm no expert on the FAR and have the impression that as a startup we would also be out of our league in attempting to understand the FAR and other regs as they apply to deep tech. Do you all think it's safest for us to stick with the subcontractor route? I don't want to enter into a direct agreement with the USG and then be overwhelmed by a sudden need to understand all the red tape, with no one guiding us. Seems like a huge liability. But please tell me if I am misguided.