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The economic landscape of America is following in the footsteps of the cultural landscape, becoming more diverse, with people from all ethnicities and genders taking on lead roles. But minority and women business owners still encounter challenges posed by centuries-old social stigmas as they steer their enterprises toward stability and success.
To help level the playing field for minority and women business owners, agencies such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council (www.nmsdc.org) and Women’s Business Enterprise Council (www.wbenc.org) serve to connect minority and female business owners with large corporations committed to contracting with diverse suppliers.
“Because of corporate connections with local, state or the federal government, there is a requirement for these big Fortune 500 companies to do business with diversity or minority owned suppliers. They have to find qualified and vetted minority or woman-owned businesses, and they look at the companies certified by WBENC or NMSDC,” says Maurice Brewster, president of the Minority Limousine Operators of America. Brewster is also president and founder of Mosaic Global Transportation, based in Redwood City, Calif. and serving Silicon Valley.
This doesn’t mean, however, that a minority- or woman-owned business will receive preferential treatment in the RFP process when going against a non-minority-owned or non-female-owned business. It just means that minority and women business owners will receive an equal opportunity at the starting block to propose their services.
“The certification serves as an advocate for the company to get a shot at a corporate contract. Beyond access, there is no preferential treatment,” Brewster says.
‘[M]ore than two-thirds of certified MBE businesses confirmed an increase in revenue by partnering with corporate members,’ according to the Minority Limousine Operators of America website.
How to access corporate contracts
The first step to gain access to the NMSDC or WBENC corporate members is to receive official certification as a Minority Business Entrepreneur (MBE) or Woman Business Entrepreneur (WBE). Before applying for certification, operators first must meet the following criteria:
A minority-owned business is defined by WMBE.com as:
A for-profit enterprise, regardless of size, physically located in the United States or its trust territories, which is owned, operated and controlled by minority group members. “Minority group members” are United States citizens who are Asian, Black, Latino/Hispanic and Native American.
Ownership by minority individuals means the business is at least 51% owned by such individuals or, in the case of a publicly-owned business, at least 51% of the stock is owned by one or more such individuals. Further, the management and daily operations are controlled by those minority group members.
A company qualifies as a woman-owned business if:
Once a business owner meets the criteria for MBE or WBE, he or she can apply for certification from the National Minority Supplier Development Council through one of the NMSDC’s regional offices throughout the country, and from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.
To apply for MBE certification, contact your closest NMSDC regional affiliate. Find their information by visiting: http://bit.ly/MinorityCouncil
To apply for WBE certification, visit: http://bit.ly/WBEcert
Brewster says it costs $300-$500 for the initial application. The process involves verification of proper business documentation, ethnicity checks, background checks and site surveys.
Deciding on a status
In some cases, a company has the opportunity to be considered either woman-owned or minority-owned, such as in the example of Brewster’s company, Mosaic Global. As an African American, Brewster qualifies for minority business ownership. But if controlling ownership of the company belonged to his wife, Rhonda, the company could qualify for woman business ownership. So how does a business in a similar situation select?
“The decision that [Rhonda and I] made is to go minority-owned as opposed to woman-owned [business status], and why we did it is because the role that I play in Mosaic is more in marketing and sales, so I’m the one that’s out there doing stuff,” Brewster says. “If I’m the one out there doing stuff, it makes sense for our company to be minority-owned. If Rhonda was going to be the faceplate of the company, then it would’ve made sense for us to be woman-owned.
“I think the decision has to be determined by who’s going to be front and center, who’s going to press the flesh, who’s going to the meetings and networking with the councils and corporate members.”
Female minority owners can receive both MBE and WBE certifications and apply both statuses to their business.
Leveraging status for business opportunities
Once a company has been certified as a minority-owned or woman-owned business, it will have access to the corporate members of each of the 36 regional councils nationwide. Certification also enters the operation’s name into a database of diversity suppliers in which corporations can browse when they need one.
Shortly after Brewster received his official MBE status, Mosaic Global was contacted by Major League Baseball, who found them in the diversity supplier database, and eventually won the contract.
Direct experience with the benefits of MBE and WBE certification led Brewster and several other operators to form and found the Minority Limousine Operators of America in 2011. The MLOA aims to inform, educate, promote and unite the minority-owned limousine industry across the U.S. The association is committed to representing the interests of minority- and woman-owned businesses, but opens membership to anyone, even if they are not business owners.
On Oct. 3, 2012, the MLOA held its first annual MLOA Conference at the Westin Atlanta Airport Hotel to educate attendees on minority-based transportation contract opportunities and how to prepare responses to Request For Proposals (RFP) for such contracts.
Speaking on the topic of RFPs was Karen Swain, president and CEO of Five Star Travel Group, a woman-owned chauffeured transportation business based in Atlanta. Swain has direct experience writing proposals in response to RFPs issued by federal, state and city government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies.
She has provided LCT with a list of questions to carefully consider when responding to an RFP, whether or not there is a MBE/WBE component to it. “People need to see the big picture,” Brewster says. “Supplier diversity is so important today. Corporations want to do business with organizations that look and feel like their own communities.”
A Request for Proposal is issued by a company or government agency to obtain a proposed solution to a specific need. RFPs are issued at an early stage of the procurement process, where an invitation is presented for suppliers, often through a bidding process to submit a proposal on a specific product or service.
Questions to ask
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