Purdue University's most recent step includes opening an office in Indianapolis that will serve as a contact point for minority-owned companies that are interested in doing business with the school.
Purdue also is becoming one of the major sponsors of the annual Indiana Black Expo.
These two projects are being headed by Jesse Moore, who became Purdue's manager for supplier diversity development in February. Moore previously led the Indianapolis Black Chamber of Commerce for nine years.
Officials say it's important for public universities to reach out to the increasing number of businesses started by black, Hispanic and women entrepreneurs.
"Public institutions should reflect the diversity of the state that supports us," said Purdue President Martin C. Jischke.
Purdue is following a similar move made by Indiana University, which last year set up its own supplier diversity program headed by LaTricia Hill-Chandler.
Large institutions such as Purdue and IU present lucrative marketing opportunities for businesses of all types. According to college officials, though, many minority businesses aren't aware of this potential opportunity or feel intimidated by the sheer size of an organization as large as a Purdue or an IU. As a result, more state universities are opening outreach offices. Purdue's office is in Intech Park on the northwest side, a location chosen because the university already has a general business development office there, Moore said.
"Businesses can get in touch with Purdue without making a 60-mile trip to West Lafayette," Moore said.
Purdue expects to help companies throughout the state, but Indianapolis was chosen for the office because it contains the greatest concentration of minority- and women-owned businesses, Moore said.
The office will answer companies' questions about how to do business with a university, explain the bidding process, and identify what steps a firm has to take to qualify itself for a state contract.
Purdue expects Moore to encourage minority firms to pursue university business opportunities.
"My job will be to get out of the office and meet folks," Moore said.
Part of Moore's qualifications for his job in the first place were his years of involvement with the Black Chamber of Commerce and his longtime activism in encouraging minority business development.
The outreach office is scheduled to officially open the middle of July. Moore said he and his staff already are using the facility and are putting finishing touches on public spaces such as meeting rooms.
IU's program is headquartered on the Bloomington campus, but also has an office at IUPUI. Hill-Chandler said she splits her time between the two offices.
Like Purdue, IU wants to maintain a presence in Indianapolis because it's the state's biggest city, she noted.
While the program initially focused on the Bloomington campus and IUPUI, Hill-Chandler said it is being expanded to all seven IU campuses.
Its goal is the same as Purdue's: Encourage minority businesses to compete for contracts with the university system.
The program holds seminars for companies who want to do business with IU and tries to promote interest in the minority business community.
Hill-Chandler noted the university is doing more advertising for construction project bids in papers and magazines that cater to the minority community instead of relying on large publications such as The Indianapolis Star.
IU also is interested in getting involved on the national level. Hill-Chandler said the university is a member of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, which encourages minority businesses to go after big customers, including governmental bodies and public education systems.
"We're the only university to be a member," she said.
As part of its diversity outreach efforts, Purdue this year decided to help sponsor the Indiana Black Expo's 35th Summer Celebration in July. Moore said the Expo has established itself as an institution in the black and minority community.
"Purdue's participation shows its commitment to diversity," he said.
Purdue is contributing $75,000 to the Expo's budget. The university will have a 1,200-square-foot exhibition space and more than 100 representatives staffing it.
It also is hosting the IBE Youth Summit, a three-day event during the Summer Celebration dedicated to the development of future community leaders.