Minority entrepreneurs continue to be stymied by lack of financing as well as public and private sector contracts. To remedy this situation, Obama administration officials met with a number of business owners to develop initiatives to bolster their firms’ financial standing and provide access to opportunities offered through the president’s $787 billion recovery plan.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency hosted a two-day summit to gather input on the effectiveness of minority business enterprise programs and create a blueprint for government and private sector programs that will help minority businesses survive and thrive for the next 20 years. “This is an important event that provides an opportunity for minority business stakeholders from across the country have a dialogue around important issues like the Recovery Act and how to access and become more aware of where those opportunities are,” says Rick Wade, deputy chief of staff at Commerce. “There are myriad issues but one that I think is recurring is access to capital and how you get from competing for contracts to real dollars floating back to our communities.”
Most of the concerns expressed by entrepreneurs in attendance focused on funding and contracting issues. If MBE programs are to be truly effective, they maintain, the agency must offer mentor-protégé opportunities with major corporations, help firms build their size to compete for large contracts, and provide clear goals, timetables and metrics for MBDA programs. Roughly 400 pages of comments and suggestions were collected from summit participants. MBDA officials say they will present a full report by July 28 and offer an action plan during its MEDWeek conference in late August.
Ed DeSeve, a special advisor to the Office of Management and Budget’s director for implementation of the Recovery Act, encouraged minority businesses to compete for federal, state, and local contracts available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He told them to provide his agency with feedback on the process and report any barriers they may face to MBDA via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Citing that the nation’s economic recovery will not be possible without the participation of minority businesses, DeSeve and Wade emphasized the administration’s commitment to helping entrepreneurs navigate federal bureaucracy.
In order to gain access to assistance, however, minority entrepreneurs find out how stimulus funds have been allocated in their states, research potential business opportunities and identify officials charged with awarding contracts. At the same time, experts say, business owners must be prepared to act quickly, making sue they have the requisite capacity, staffing, and other resources in place. “If you don’t do your homework, you won’t be able to reap any of the rewards. Know where the money is, research the projects that they’re putting the money on, and find the niche that you can show that you’re best person to fill it,” advises Glen Delgado, assistant administrator for NASA’s Office of Small Business Programs. “The other thing is you have to be able to be flexible and react quickly because there’s a lot of pressure on every agency to spend the money quickly. They’re going to be awarding contracts in a rapid fashion so you have to be able to put together a meaningful proposal in a short period of time.”
Delgado also stresses the importance of developing a network among small business specialists at various agencies. “Develop relationships, show them your capabilities and let them introduce you to the program and technical people and to their large prime contractors so you can start getting your foot in the door as a sub,” he explains. “Then the people at the agency start to recognize your name and work. That helps build the relationship so when a requirement does come out they’ll think, ‘Oh, this guy does that work; he’ll be a good fit for that.’ But it takes time; don’t get discouraged.”
Richelle Thomas, deputy director of the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Office of Minority Business Enterprise, offers similar advice. “I wish there was some magic formula, but unfortunately there isn’t,” she says. “Stay informed, market your firm, and don’t wait for the opportunity to come to you. Be in touch with the agencies involved and go to pre-bid conferences. You’ve got to commit the time.”