HISD guiding growth in small businesses

HISD Team Lead for Supplier Diversity Bernard Willingham urged small businesses to know their products and services well before applying for business contracts with the district.

“You have to prove to us that you can do what you say you can do, do it in the time we expect and provide the quality we need,” Willingham told a group of 50 small business owners during a workshop Friday. “You must make your customer comfortable because we only do business with people we’re comfortable with. If you can do that, you will be successful no matter what your products or services are.”

The workshop, “How to Do Business with … The Port, METRO, The City of Houston, HISD, and HCC,” was hosted by Score Houston, a volunteer group of business executives that provide insider knowledge on building a business.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there,” said Will Norwood III with the city’s Office of Business Opportunity. “If your company is really unique, you have to get unique with your business approach and how you present your company’s products.”

The two and a half hour program featured presentations on how to position a small business to work with the public sector, including guidance on applying for a minority- and woman-owned business enterprise (M/WBE) certification and the top mistakes small businesses make when completing Requests for Proposals (RFPs).

“The biggest mistake suppliers make is that they do not read the entire RFP,” Willingham said. “Read the entire RFP, make sure you understand what it’s asking of your business. It doesn’t do any good to bid on something that’s affecting 300 schools if your business can’t handle that scope of work.”

Businesses were encouraged to attend pre-proposal meetings to meet buyers and learn about opportunities to subcontract or joint venture to help improve their business capacity for HISD projects in the 2012 bond program, which will build or renovate 40 schools across the district. “Contractors have to meet a subcontracting goal, and if they don’t, they stand the chance of losing a project,” Willingham said.

Small businesses should not be afraid of the bidding process because the majority of the products and services HISD buys comes through the bid process, Willingham shared. Some businesses, depending on their products, may be able to work directly with a school to sell their services. The district has more than 150 spend categories businesses can bid for work on.

“It’s really hard for a small business to get their foot in the door, so events like this are helpful,” said Mike Escobedo of Central Office Solutions. “I want to register my business for the office products spend category with HISD and see what happens.”

“This event re-emphasizes the importance of getting out there and making sure you not only have a good product but are making yourself familiar with clients and what’s being offered,” said Mike Tamez of Briter Enterprises Construction, a certified M/WBE interested in bidding for work on construction projects under the HISD bond program.

Score Houston education director Beth Shapiro said the goal of the program is to help participants grow their business. “We’re all about educating small businesses because you have to have knowledge to grow your business.”