By most accounts, minority-owned and managed businesses still face an uphill battle for acceptance and an equal footing for government and private contracts. Many organizations -- starting with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and branching out to groups both governmental and not -- exist to help level the playing field, and by taking advantage of these opportunities, you can:
- Network with other minority owners for business leads.
- Land business contracts for which you otherwise wouldn't have been able to compete, even if you had known about them.
- Receive advice from successful business owners.
Get certifiedOne of the programs that the SBA offers small disadvantaged businesses (SDBs) is the cleverly named Small Disadvantaged Business Certification Program, which provides benefits -- such as treating a bid as if it were 10% lower -- when the business applies for contracts from certain government agencies.
qualification list for who is and who isn't small and disadvantaged is enormous, but in general if your business is owned and managed by a "socially and economically disadvantaged individual" then you can apply for certification, which takes several steps.
Ask for developmentThe other SBA business assistance program is the 8(a) Business Development Program. Under this program, 8(a) businesses can team up when they apply for government contracts.
application process for 8(a) status is the same as for SDB certification. Another benefit for 8(a) participants is a mentor-protégé program in which mentors provide technical, financial, and managerial assistance to a protégé company and possibly assigns it subcontract work.
Look for other government assistanceThe SBA isn't the only part of the federal government keeping an eye out for equalizing opportunities.
Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) within the Department of Commerce has enterprise centers for minorities and Native Americans throughout the U.S. that provide one-on-one financial planning, marketing advice, and business plan guidance. The regions are Atlanta and the Southeast, New York and New England, Chicago and the Great Lakes area, Dallas and the Midwest, and San Francisco and the West. In addition to an online forum that's accessible everywhere, the MBDA also has Opportunity Committees in these five regions that coordinate federal, state and local resources. Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization programs that try to get contracts to minority run companies can be found at NASA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Department of Commerce. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has a grant program.
Start networkingBusiness is always conducted between people, not companies, so the more people you meet, the more information you'll have on hand and the more opportunities you can discover.
- Contact your state government and ask about local minority-related development agencies.
- Attend classes on writing grant proposals and contract bids. Don't learn through practice when you can get assistance to make every proposal more appealing.
- Investigate minority organizations for speaking opportunities to make yourself better known in your industry.
- Avoid paying others for information on receiving information on government grants. Government organizations always make this info available for free.