Minority Business Development
Minority Business Development; How to Grow Your Business and Your Bottom Line
By Kamau Austin
Are you leaving money on the table? If you are a business owner who is a woman or a member of a minority and you have not become certified as a Minority or Women-Owned Business Enterprise (known as M/WBE), you may be missing out on opportunities.
Reasons to Become Certified
Why do you need certification? Well, maybe you don't. Certification lets others know that your company is what you say it is-a minority and/or women-owned business. Chances are your average customer is not going to ask you for certification. Certification is required, however, when you want to do business with companies or government agencies that have supplier diversity programs and want to ensure a level playing field for women, minority, or disabled-veteran owned businesses. While you may not have considered this as an avenue for your business, you will want to be ready to seize an opportunity, should one arise.
M/WBE Certification will also give you the ability to expose your business to potential customers that you may not have considered nor had access to before. Many of the qualifying agencies create meet-and-greet opportunities, directories and notify you of upcoming opportunities. This alone makes the sacrifice of time and minimal fees, when going through the certification process, well worth it.
In order to be eligible for certification, the basic requirements are:
" The business must be at least 51 percent owned, controlled and actively managed by minority group members (Native American, Black, Hispanic, Asian- Indian, Asian-Pacific, Aleut, Eskimo, or Native Hawaiian)
" In business for at least one year
How long is my certification valid?
Recertification practices, as well as fees, vary according to the certifying agency. For example, the state of New Jersey requires recertification upon your one-year anniversary. However after that first recertification, your status is valid for five years provided you submit your supporting documentation by your anniversary date each year.
Choosing a certifying agency should depend upon your type of business and the opportunities you want to seek. Your city and state government offices have certification processes, help and opportunities. There are a myriad of other agencies as well such as the NY/NJ Supplier Development Council (formerly known as the NY/NJ Purchasing Council). As per their website, "The Council strives to expand business opportunities for minority-owned suppliers by linking them with purchasers in the public and private sector. As an advocate for both its suppliers and corporate members, The Council fosters relationships between corporate decision makers and targeted minority suppliers." Are All Certifications Recognized By All Agencies And Companies Seeking M/WBEs?
With all these certifying agencies, you may want to know if all agencies and companies recognize all certifications. The short answer is not necessarily. You must check with the requesting agency or company.
For example, in New York there is an agreement between the NYC Department of Small Business Services and The NY/NJ Minority Supplier Development council called the New York City Fast Track Certification
As posted on their website, "The New York & New Jersey Minority Supplier Development Council, Inc. ("The Council") and the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS) are now promoting "Fast Track certifications" that will enable Council-certified suppliers to increase their contracting opportunities in the public sector. The City and The Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in an effort to increase the certification of minority-owned businesses. Under the agreement, businesses certified by The Council as a Minority-Owned Business Enterprise (MBE) will receive expedited approval of their certification applications with the City… Council-certified suppliers will have greater access to contracting opportunities, better preparation to compete for City contracts, and extra navigation in the public procurement process. "
This partnership is great news for a small business looking to expand its opportunities. Many such opportunities exist, but be sure to ask the certifying agency where the certification will be recognized and question the companies providing opportunities what certifications will be accepted. Be sure to do this before making a commitment to become certified with any agency as many fees, if required, are not refundable.
The process of applying for M/WBE Certification may be daunting for some. It may require more focus and time than you are able to spare, but don't give up. There is a tremendous amount of assistance available for you on both a free or fee basis. Each agency provides its own sources of assistance. In New York City at the official website, www.nyc.gov, you can find applications, help documents, email addresses and contact numbers for assistance. They also provide monthly training seminars where you can get help from trained certification specialists for free. To get help and information on M/WBE certification in your locale, begin with your city and state government. Check their websites or call for help. Your local libraries will be able to assist as well. The internet is a cornucopia of information. Use any of the various search engines such as Google (www.google.com) and Yahoo (www.yahoo.com). Changing the word phrases as you search, i.e. minority certification, mbe agencies, or minority business opportunities, will pull up different results giving you a wider array of information. There are also tremendous local organizations that are ready and willing to give you assistance. Begin with the Small Business Administration and their local arms known as SBDCs or Small Business Development Centers, often times located within the city colleges (http://www.sba.gov/localresources/index.html). Your local library is a tremendous resource as well.
There are times when all you need is someone to pull you through the process. An executive, administrative or virtual (remote) assistant can work wonders in this area, from researching the qualifying agencies and fees to helping you to complete each step of the application. Choose someone thorough and detailed because a detained application can cost you time, money and missed opportunity.
If you are qualified for certification and you don't get this done you've left money on the table, possibly thousands of dollars or more. Can you afford not to become M/WBE Certified?