Procurement boot camp puts small businesses on path to resources
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
The wording wasn’t exactly the famous quote by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, but Veronica Valdez got the point across the way she put it.
Valdez, Enterprise Florida’s Vice President of Minority and Small Business Entrepreneurship and Capital Programs, was explaining why the Minority and Small Business Procurement Boot Camp was important.
“Our position is you could give a man fish or you could teach him how to fish,” said Valdez, who moderated the event. “We want to teach you how to fish.”
The daylong event that took place last Tuesday at the Turnbull Center, was planned after organizers realized that several small businesses have mastered their craft but they lack the access to the resources. The event was intended to help them find ways to build and grow, Valdez said.
About 120 businesses registered for the event, said Katrina Tuggerson, president of the Capital City Chamber of Commerce. Several came from throughout Florida. The primary focus was on procurement, while attendees got plenty of information about how to do business with state agencies.
Other topics covered were ways to respond to requests for proposals and financing strategies. In addition to government agencies, vendors included Amazon and the Orlando Magic.
Attendees heard plenty about the importance of sizing up their businesses and getting certified. Those are two essential steps to being eligible for doing business with government agencies, Valdez said.
“We know that they do well, but how do you go from two employees to 50 employees or selling 10 widgets to selling a million widgets,” she said. “So if you can sell one product you can sell a million but you need the formula; the system to access.”
Small businesses in Florida make up 99.8 percent of all businesses, while employing 41.1 percent of workers in the state. The boot camp is expected to incentivize even more growth for the existing businesses. Essential to that end is certification, which more than one speaker mentioned.
Throughout the boot camp speakers made it clear in different ways that it takes more than money, a storefront and a business plan to make a business work.
“It doesn’t work like that (and) that’s why all of these connecting pieces are in the room,” said Tuggerson. “If people with the resources can help, you don’t have to just guess, drive by and go ‘oh that’s a good spot.’
“No. Don’t go that route. What makes it sustainable is when you put a team of people around you with resources you can continue to sell. That’s what makes this boot camp so important.”
Early in the presentations, Greg Britton, chief executive officer with the Florida Small Business Development Council, used a video featuring testimonials that illustrated some of the failure, success and challenges that owners of small businesses face.
The presentation was right on time for Bill Bassett, owner Rob’s Refinishing. He said he found the information on procurement especially useful in part because of current economic uncertainties.
“It’s always when things are difficult that you start scrambling around looking for (resources),” Bassett said. “This will help you prepare for that and also be in that constant networking.”
The importance of procurement or doing business with state agencies, was the focus of Don Zavesky’s presentation. He is a government contracting Specialist with Florida Procurement Technical Center, where small business owners often turn for help.
Getting assistance through the Procurement Technical Center doesn’t require more than filling out a simple information form, he said. Business owners shouldn’t be intimidated by the word procurement, instead seeing it like the process of seeking someone to provide a home repair service, he said.
“Once you know where you’re trying to get to, the pathway becomes very clear and the steps to get there,” Zavesky said. “Same thing with government contracting.”
Small businesses in Tallahassee and throughout the state could look to colleges and universities for procurement opportunities, said Melissa Roberts, managing direct of the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship. The boot camp was the ideal setting to let business owners know about ways to go after government contracts, she said.
“We want to do everything we can to help small business owners to be successful and procurement offers another option for revenue and for doing business with these government entities,” she said. “This boot camp brings these partners together at one time; not only can they learn what each agency’s expectations are and how to do business with them but also they are networking with their peers and forming partnerships that can go after contracts together or learn from one another.”
Keemasheka Jones, owner of Essential Diagnostic Solutions, said networking and promoting her business were two reasons she attended the boot camp. A former nurse who started her business two years ago, she is constantly seeking ways to build her business.
The boot camp was perfect.
“I’m hoping to take away building relationships with different vendors, finding out about funding and building the gap to keep my business running,” Jones said. “I would love to get those (government) contracts because I would like to expand to different areas. There is a great need all over Florida.”