So, you’ve checked the box, and you qualify as a minority-owned business enterprise (MBE), woman-owned business enterprise (WBE), veteran-owned business enterprise (VOBE), service-disabled veteran-owned business enterprise (SDVOBE) and/or an individual-with-disabilities-owned business enterprise (IWDBE).
What’s the next step — and will certification actually impact your small business?
The Delaware Office of Supplier Diversity (OSD) is pushing for every business that falls into the above five categories to voluntarily certify, whether or not they plan to bid on government contracts.
“It’s an additional mechanism for us to count how many diverse businesses we have,” said Shavonne White, the director of the OFD in Wilmington, of checking the box as a first step to being counted. “Before this, you either could be certified through my office, or, if you won a contract and filled out the forms, there was a question to identify your status there. Otherwise we would have to look at census data, which may not be all that accurate.”
To understand why knowing how many diverse businesses there are matters, you only have to look as far back as the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Minority status data was collected when the OFD released the Delaware Relief Grant application, and in the first round, they saw that they didn’t get a lot of applications from minority and women owned businesses. After increasing outreach to those communities, they saw the number of minority and woman-owned applications increase dramatically. They were also able to see that the acceptance rate for these groups weren’t as high as non-minority/women owned businesses – an issue they would not have spotted if they hadn’t been collecting the data.
“That’s where this information is key,” White said. “That’s why we do it. We want to make sure that we can meet your needs, but if we don’t know what needs to be met, we can’t.”
The benefits of being listed in the OSD directory
Once your business is certified, it gets listed in the OSD’s directory. The directory is public and can be used as a networking tool, or can help established businesses find newer business owners to mentor.
As of this writing, the directory has just under 1,000 businesses. It’s been growing since the check boxes were added to businesses registration and renewals in September, but it’s still far from including most qualifying businesses. Most of the businesses in the directory so far are the types of businesses people think of when they think of government contracts, in industries like construction, infrastructure and technology. Those industries are needed for contracts to be sure, but they’re only part of the picture.
“You might think that you don’t have a product or service that the state provides, but you would be very surprised,” White said. “If you go and take a look at what the states spend their money on — it’s all transparent, everything is online — the state needs pizza. Pizza Fridays, that’s an actual contract. Ice cream is an actual contract.”
The state needs creatives, makers and services of all kinds. So do the private corporations that use the directory.
“[The database] is used by all 16 of our state agencies and also our private companies, like ChristianaCare, looking for diverse suppliers,” White said.
Benefits for OSD certified bidders
In order to ensure that state agencies seek out bids from certified companies, Delaware has a policy that says that in cases when an agency is going to spend between $10,000 to $49,999 on a project, one of the three required bids has to be from a vendor that is certified with the OSD. This could help your business get a foot in the door with state contracts, in a state with no set supplier diversity goals and extremely limited set asides.
You may not know that, as a Delaware-certified business, you can then get certified to do business with other states — which in the mid-Atlantic region have supplier diversity goals of up to 30%.
“Because we have neighboring states who are a little bit more friendlier, and have goals and set aside programs, we do have vendors who are seeking certification in those states,” White said. “You have to be certified in your home state first, before you can be certified in another state.”
Don’t fear the application
If a qualifying business owner doesn’t think that they will see direct impact from voluntarily certifying, the 24-page application — currently a PDF form, found here on OSD’s website — might discourage them from going forward. The length is necessary to make sure the applicant understands the certification process and what they will need to apply, including a notarized affidavit confirming that you are a member of one or more of the certification groups.
The process is on its way to being streamlined, with an online portal that will cut down on paper and make the process easier, especially on the OSD end. The user-friendly portal, which is in an early stage of development, will guide business owners through the application while including the same amount of information businesses need to know.
“There is a lot of important information that the vendors should read prior to applying,” White said. “And then you have the application form. We need to make sure you’re eligible for certification, and [the portal] will just simplify it. We’ll be able to make sure that we’re collecting all the information and have it available to better meet the needs of our businesses. That data collection is key, so we have to make sure that you know we’re on point.”
Once you’re certified, you can check out Delaware’s MyMarket Procurement Portal, where you can search available contracts and access resources; attend events hosted by Delaware’s Central Contracting Unit; and join the OSD ListServ. But the potential goes beyond Delaware.
In the next and final part of this series, we will look beyond state borders and deeper into the potential for contracting in other states, as well as on the national level, and other opportunities for certified businesses in the region.
Knowledge is power!
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