Connecting Small and Diverse Businesses to Opportunities at UF
With an annual spend that can easily reach nearly a billion dollars and an economic reach that is felt locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, the University of Florida is an entrepreneurial hub on the move! Everywhere you look there’s a new building or a new development which means opportunity. The division leading the charge to ensure small and diverse businesses have help connecting to opportunities at UF is the division of Small Business & Vendor Diversity Relations (SBVDR).
Although small businesses are the backbone of our economic landscape and key drivers of job creation and growth, it can be a challenge for small and diverse businesses to successfully compete for business opportunities to help them grow and become sustainable. The SBVDR draws together a diverse community of small businesses – the innovators and doers who power our economic engine.
The program recently held its 27th Annual Small Business Opportunity Fair + Summit. Since its inception, this event has grown to become one of the most anticipated events for small and diverse business professionals in the north central Florida region, hosting representatives from small, minority and women-owned businesses, corporations, UF departments and members of state agencies and higher education institutions. This is not only significant from a longevity perspective, but is reflective of UF’s longstanding commitment to helping small and diverse businesses in this community.
The process of one business selling to another, or business-to-business, can be a game-changer for small businesses. In fact, developing a business-to-business strategy can be critical for any business looking to scale and grow. Unfortunately, for many small businesses, the thought of doing business with a large customer can be intimidating, sometimes leading them to think, “We don’t want to get too big.” However, the truth is, you often can stay as small as you’re comfortable with—or grow as large as you want—with the right strategy.
One of the tools small and diverse businesses can use to develop this strategy is supplier diversity programs. Within a larger organization, the mission of these programs is to increase the pool of small and diverse businesses available to do work with. This is achieved by finding small and minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses that can supply many of the goods and services needed to operate. Today, most corporations, higher-education institutions and, of course, the federal government, have programs specifically designed to increase their utilization of and spend with small and diverse businesses. Many of these organizations want to ensure their business partners are reflective of the communities in which they operate. These organizations understand that it is no longer just a “nice thing to do” but a business imperative and integral to their own competitive advantage.
The University of Florida’s program has a three-pronged approach to help businesses utilize its program and put them on the path to successfully doing business with UF – CONNECT, ENGAGE, and BUY!
Gainesville enjoys numerous resources to help entrepreneurs reach their full potential and UF Small Business & Vendor Diversity Relations can be counted amongst this dynamic ecosystem.
When businesses connect with the program, they are then connected to our the group’s vast resources to advocate and get them on the path to a contract opportunity as quickly as possible. Whether it is connecting firms to opportunities with the various departments across campus or other business development resources. SBVDR partners with the State of Florida Office of Supplier Diversity to assist firms in getting certified and learn about doing business with the state of Florida, other agencies within the state and other higher education institutions. They also work with agencies such as the Small Business Administration to connect businesses to programs and contract opportunities with the federal government.
Most supplier diversity programs offer numerous opportunities to connect and engage with key people within the organization. Organizations do business with those that they know, like and trust. In order to build relationships, small businesses should actively engage in the programs, attend events and use available resources. Often, this will provide your firm with opportunities to get valuable one-on-one time to communicate the full breadth and expertise of your business, making it easier for them to advocate on your behalf. The UF program offers numerous opportunities for small businesses to sharpen skill sets and build business acumen through workshops and networking events.
With any potential customer, in order to service them effectively, you should understand what they buy, how they buy and who the correct people are to engage. Depending on the complexity of the organization, there can be several touchpoints for entry, including subcontract or second-tier opportunities, where you contract to perform work for another company, or prime contractor, that has a direct contract with the organization. These are great stepping stones and provide an excellent (and faster) opening to build capacity, absorb how to do business with a large organization and get a contract.
Doing business with institutions or agencies does not happen overnight. Truthfully, it may take significant time and investment of resources to build relationships and demonstrate you can fulfill the terms of a contract. If you think you are ready to make UF your customer, the first step is to research carefully to fully understand if the risk (outlay of resources, time, etc.) for your business is, indeed, worth the potential reward. SBVDR stands ready to help firms every step of the way.
The UF Small Business and Vendor Diversity Relations group offers multiple programs and events to engage and promote with local businesses. Here is a sampling.
Mentor Protégé Program – annual, year-long training program that partners an emerging business with a larger, established business to help answer questions, provide support and help them become comfortable with the processes at UF
Monthly Business Development Workshops – monthly workshop featuring various departments across campus to discuss how to do business with them and community resources that provide support to small businesses
Annual Small Business Opportunity Fair + Summit – annual networking, business development and awards event that connects attendees with various corporations, UF departments and partners, members of state agencies and higher education institutions and recognizes outstanding community partners and stakeholders
Personal Meetings – Connects key personnel from various UF departments including Shands, Athletics, Procurement, Facilities Services, etc. to discuss upcoming contract opportunities
Bus Tour – Tour of upcoming and current construction projects with active contract opportunities (open to mentor protégé participants only).
By Kathey Porter, MBA, CPSD