On January 24th, I had the pleasure of attending the First Annual Upstate New York Minority and Women-Owned Enterprise (MWBE) Summit, held at the beautiful Memorial Art Gallery. For those of you who attended the RHBA’s November Business Lunch, you may recall that our speaker, Matthew Burrell, Monroe County’s MWBE Utilization Manager, invited us to attend this event, hosted by Monroe County’s Department of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI).
It was great to see some of our RHBA members and friends there but in case you weren’t among the approximately 300 people in attendance, I wanted to share some key takeaways with you!
There were 3 very useful panels held, as well as keynote messages from Terrence Clark, President & CEO of the New York/New Jersey Minority Supplier Development Council, and former Super Bowl champion, Roland Wiliams, Chairman & CEO of Brown Diamond Holdings.
The first panel was called, “Mentoring and Coaching,” and included representatives from LeChase Construction, Pike Construction Services, Vizient, NY Power Authority, and the University of Rochester. The panel emphasized that their companies, among many others, are committed to supplier diversity. Panel member Knofi McClary, VP and Project Executive of Upstate Interiors LLC, shared his experience as an MWBE working with some of the companies on the panel. A key message was the importance of finding mentors who are familiar with the procurement process and not being afraid to ask for help!
The second panel, “How to do Business with Corporations,” included representatives from Excellus, National Fuel Gas, National Grid, and the University of Rochester. The panel had several good suggestions. They encouraged MWBEs to be persistent and patient when applying for project opportunities. They gave some quick tips to consider once your business is invited to meet with a project representative:
- It’s good to bring a 1-page “capability statement” that explains your business — who you are; what you do; and what you have already done.
- Do your research on the company ahead of time – come prepared!
- Don’t start by saying “I am certified MWBE.” While this may come up later, start by talking about your business! Tell them what your business is/does; what you have already done; and how you can help them.
- Here is what these companies look for when approached by possible suppliers/vendors:
- Can you mitigate our expenses?
- Can you maximize our profitability/enhance revenue?
- What is your differentiation from others applying? Hint: the answer cannot just be “I am a certified MWBE.”
- How will you help my company stay innovative in order to remain competitive?
The final panel, “Access to Capital,” was led by representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Buffalo district office, Canandaigua National Bank, ESL, M&T, and the Enterprise Center at Pathstone (ECP). The panel introduced an acronym that I found very useful, which references the key “team” every small business needs – BAIL! This stands for Banker, Accountant, Insurance, and Lawyer. Each provided products their companies offer to provide access to economic capital for MWBEs. While the banks deliver traditional financial services, SBA also assists through counseling and training services, guaranteed lending, and government contracting. Javier Zapata, President & Executive director of the Enterprise Center at Pathstone, shared that 60% of ECP’s clients are minority-owned businesses and that their loans may be more flexible than traditional funding. Here are a few more takeaways to keep in mind when applying for financial assistance:
- Do your research on whether there is a market for whatever you are exploring as a business. Visit the Business Insight Center at the Rochester Public Library! It’s free and provides market research, intellectual property and patent information, and more!
- Find out what resources are available in your community. There is so much support for MWBE’s in Rochester including, but not limited to, the Enterprise Center at Pathstone, SBA, Ibero Business Center, SCORE, the City of Rochester, and Monroe County’s Economic Development division.
- Maximize the finances you have and access only what you need.
- Be ready to describe what you need the money for specifically and how it will support your business growth.
- What have you already put in? Capital can also be in the form of time, sweat equity, ideas, and human capital, in addition to whatever financial resources you’ve invested in your business already.
- Keep your personal and business finances separate to the degree possible
- Join Networking Groups! (The Rochester Hispanic Business Association and Small Business Council of Rochester come to mind!).
More and more companies are realizing the value of supplier diversity. Still, as keynote speaker, Roland Williams stated, “the meaning of ‘equity’ is ‘being given a fair and impartial chance.’ However, equity is not a handout; it is an opportunity. Coupled with teamwork,’ defined as a combined action of a group of people…’ it can also be inspiring.”