SMALL BUSINESS, BIG IMPACT: WHAT IS SBSD?
“UF benefits when we tap into the energy, talent, perspectives and ambition of everyone in our community and state, and that includes the diversity of small business owners we engage with,” said UF President Kent Fuchs. “Their help gives us a leg up in meeting the needs of faculty, staff and students across our very comprehensive and diverse campus.”
Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD) at UF does just that. They are a small department at UF, but like the businesses it supports, the department is mighty and spans across a statewide network. The SBSD department supports the use of small and diverse businesses within UF departments and units. These would include businesses owned by women, minorities, veterans, and service-disabled veterans. “If you’re looking to get connected to UF, and you’re a small business, we want to work with you,” states Dwan Courtney, the director of SBSD.
Just as SBSD supports use of local and diverse business use within the university community, they also support the small local and diverse businesses by being a go-to resource. Dwan Courtney states that one key aspect of their mission is to “establish programming that supports small business owners’ success in working with UF.” Such programs and services have been designed to help develop these firms and promote the many opportunities for small businesses to work with the institution.
The department did not always have programs that were utilized as local resources. At first, it was not considered a department, it was only a small program within the procurement office. Larry Ellis, who is currently the Director of Building Services for Facilities Services at UF, passionately believed in the power of small businesses. He unofficially directed SBSD for a decade before he was formally named the first director in 1998.
“The future of small businesses is central to the overall economy for the State of Florida, spurring local job creation and innovation while fostering entrepreneurship among women, minorities, veterans, and other portions of the population,” writes Ellis.
It is important for those at UF to recognize the huge powers small businesses have. “While we are looking to highlight the opportunities at the institution, the opportunities become available when our internal units understand the importance of working with our small business owners,” Courtney states.
Usually, the first thought that comes to mind when thinking about a small business is an emerging company with limited ability to do anything beyond “business-to-business” endeavors. But a small business may not be as “small” as you think. Courtney explains that the State of Florida acknowledges a small business as an entity that has up to $5 million in net worth and up to 200 employees. “That’s not chump change,” comments Courtney.
Director Courtney advocates that “working with small business owners allows us to transform how we do business within our community.” One small business owner who has experienced SBSD efforts firsthand is the owner of Knight Raven Enterprises, Jerome Knight.
“I was one of the first protégé participants in the program, at the time, newly developed Mentor Protégé program. Two years later, I became a protégé again. After my time as a two-time program protégé, I was invited to be a graduate assistant for the program, then became a co-mentor and this year, 2022, I have been brought on as a mentor. This is a testament to the success of the SBSD department and the program. They want to see small local businesses succeed so they develop tools for us to use that way we can build great local businesses,” states Knight.
Knight’s business was aided by the many resources that are available through SBSD. Recently, SBSD has created a refreshed small business database and a new tool called an Opportunity Portal. The Opportunity Portal “highlights different opportunities for our small and diverse business community to be able to engage with UF,” according to Courtney.
SBSD has also created a supplier feedback form to solicit feedback from our small business community as to how we can better support their efforts with UF. “While I understand my role as a director in leading the efforts in what the institution is doing with the small business community, it is invaluable for me to understand the barriers and challenges of our small business owners,” states Courtney.
“Oftentimes, using small businesses is an afterthought, but I would encourage people to be intentional about working with these firms. Just about every product you can purchase with a large business, can be purchased from a small business. For example, when looking to purchase clothes, consider local shops or boutiques. Or even when grocery shopping, focus on using stores that support local farms. In addition, there are databases for the community, state and nation to identify small businesses and let’s not forget about social media,” shares Courtney.
The impact of SBSD’s resources and support is felt much further than Gainesville. Wherever there is a UF presence, there is also an SBSD presence. In counties throughout Florida, small businesses have access to the resources the SBSD provides. SBSD strives to meet with 10-15 small businesses a month to expand their network and resources across the state. “UF’s advocacy and support for SBSD for nearly 34 years propitiously affected the professions, careers, opportunities, welfare, and subsistence of hundreds of business owners and their families,” writes Larry Ellis.
SBSD supports the local small business community and encourages diversity and economic growth. It helps not just the university, but the people who surround it. “We want to work with different communities and help create change,” states Courtney. If your department is interested in working with small businesses, feel free to contact SBSD at firstname.lastname@example.org, so they can share resources available to support your interest.