Maurice Brewster received his certification as a minority-owned business in 2008 by the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC). He had been in the transportation business 10 years, but never knew about the certification process and how it could affect his business.
Six years later, his company, Mosaic Global Transportation, in Redwood City, Calif., holds many large contracts with local corporations for their transportation needs, and he credits the certification as giving him access to earn these RFPs.
“The benefits have been outstanding for us, but at the end of the day, I have to score that RFP,” Brewster says. “I receive no preferential treatment other than the fact that the company may not have known who Mosaic Transportation was before. We still have to answer the RFP questions and be competitive and score well the same way as a non-minority company. There’s no difference. It’s all about giving access.”
The NMSDC started during the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1969, President Nixon signed Executive Order 11458, which required government agencies and their contractors to work with minority-owned companies and report the results with pre-established goals. For more than 40 years, the NMSDC has helped minority-owned businesses better compete in the marketplace and earn these contracts.
Large corporations that work with the government are required to have a portion of their revenues go toward small businesses or minority- or women-owned businesses. This is true for many airlines, tech companies, and other corporations on the Fortune 500 list. If they accept work from the U.S. Government, then it can stipulate where portions of their revenue should be spent. By becoming certified, minority- and women-owned businesses gain entry into the selection pool for bidding on these RFPs.
The NMSDC is the preeminent organization for minority business accreditation and continuing education. The process for becoming certified takes about two to three months, Brewster says. “It’s a thorough examination of your company. They do all of their due diligence to make sure you own more than 51% of the company and that you are who you say you are.”
Amy Birmbaum, CEO of Royal Coachman
, says over time she has seen more RFPs asking about women- and minority-owned companies. “It’s really starting to matter to them,” she says.
The NMSDC has a national office in New York and 24 regional affiliates across the country. Minority businesses are categorized as owners who are at least 25% Asian, Black, Hispanic, or Native American, and eligibility is established via screenings, interviews and site visits.
The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) gives certifications for women-owned businesses and works in much the same way as the NMSDC. Amy Birmbaum, CEO of Royal Coachmen Worldwide in Denville, N.J., received her Women-Owned Business Certificate from WBENC in 2003. “They’re pretty strict,” she says of the certification process. "They do a site inspection and want to look at all of your financials and information about your company — and make sure it’s not just someone putting their wife as the majority owner when she doesn’t even work.”
Birmbaum considers the certificate as “another feather in her cap” when it comes to business, and although the certificate gains her admission to RFPs, it still requires her to work hard to secure new business. “It’s not like you get the certificate and put it up on the wall and people call. It doesn’t work like that. But I would recommend women owners in this industry get certified. It’s a great avenue for smaller companies to get involved with RFPs they may not otherwise be included in.”
Darrell Anderson, CEO of A-National Limousine, the largest minority-owned chauffeured transportation operation in Atlanta, became certified in 2010, and has secured contract work for a number of roles at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta
Darrell Anderson’s A-National Limousine
fleet on Fulton Street, down the road from where the 1996 Olympics opened. Anderson says it’s important not to accept an RFP beyond the scope of what your company can do, and to look to partner strategically with other business owners. Small business owners can become certified and act as sub-contractors to the primary one in RFP bids.
. “My experience [with certification] has been very good,” he says. “I do a lot of bids with airports, which are a government authority, and they have a number of diversity programs. I’ve found them to be very lucrative and stable work, with contracts running from five to seven years and payments in a timely fashion.”
Anderson has three businesses under contract at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport: the chauffeured ground transportation, the ride-share shuttle routes, and even a contract for training taxi dispatchers who work curbside outside the terminals. As a service with low overhead, Anderson is grateful for the new deal. “I’ve seen my company transition into doing more contract work and not just based on transportation services,” he says. “I’ve been in the business now 33 years and my future is to make money on what I’ve learned and not just make money on running a traditional limo service.”
Anderson advises new operators who are minority owners to get certified as soon as possible. Citing the paperwork and background vetting is easier for newer companies that haven’t built up large amounts of records over the years to parse through.
What To Do After Certification
Once an operator has received certification, he or she is eligible to begin registering with local corporations’ supplier diversity programs. These are most often website portals where businesses can sign up to be on an RFP list and be notified when contracts pertaining to their businesses are available. Melissa Thornton, CEO of LSW Chauffeured Transportation in White Plains, N.Y., is certified as a woman- and minority-owned business.
Melissa Thornton, CEO of LSW Chauffeured Transportation
, knew of supplier diversity programs from her career in corporate work. When she took over the family business in 2010, she immediately got her certifications.
“I’m of the mindset of leave no stone unturned when it comes to business,” she says, “and getting certified has helped.” But Thornton warns that just getting certified does not guarantee more business. She says that registering with local companies and government agencies through their RFP portals is a good start, but it’s also important to attend local networking events for diversity suppliers. These can be found through local NMSDC and WBENC chapters and through online research. Face-to-face meetings can pay off big.
“It’s not an immediate return on your time,” she says. “It’s a process, but don’t get discouraged. I’m certified, but it’s just like anything else in life. You have to represent yourself well, know your product, know your service, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you are a minority or woman.”
National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC)
Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
U.S. Small Business Administration
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Minority Limousine Operators of America