Biz groups join forces: Agencies hope to reach more minority-, women-owned firms

September 26, 2005

Two organizations that aim to increase business opportunities for minorities and women have formed a united front, hoping to foster even greater diversity among companies.

Indiana Business Diversity Council and the National Association of Women Business Owners'local chapter aren't only sharing knowledge and resources-they'll also share space when NAWBO moves in with IBDC later this fall.

NAWBO hopes the partnership will enhance its networking capabilities. It also will give the all-volunteer organization it first-ever place to call home.

For its part, IBDC hopes to raise its profile and gain name recognition, said CEO Reggie Henderson-a challenge for the group despite its nearly 30-year history in Indianapolis.

"We are known in procurement circles ... but not in the political arena or the community," he said. "We're like those companies known only to the insiders, but not to the rest of the world."

Henderson, a former small-business and economic-policy lobbyist, was hired a year ago to lead IBDC, an affiliate of the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

"We were in a rut, the same one the chapter had been in since 1976," he said. "We have come a long way in just a little less than a year."

In addition to making the decision to team up with NAWBO, the council has formed a partnership with the state to streamline the certification process for minority businesses.

Many large corporations are more inclined to work with a minority business if it has been through certification. Previously, minority businesses had to go through separate certification processes-one from the council to work with the private sector and a second for government work.

Under the new arrangement, effective Oct. 19, the state will add its designation to the council's certification, in effect giving the council more authority, Henderson said.

Other initiatives include developing curriculum to prepare students for manufacturing changes and creating a database to match companies and minority vendors.

But IBDC's most far-reaching accomplishment this past year was its partnership with NAWBO, Henderson said.

About 10 years ago, the national council stopped giving women-owned businesses its minority status. Henderson said narrowing the focus in such a way may have hurt the organization's growth potential.

"Both of our groups are on the same track," Henderson said. " So it just makes sense we work together."

And live together.

This fall, the local NAWBO chapter will move into the council's quarters, a North Meridian Street building donated by locally based Emmis Communications Corp. The Small Business Administration had occupied space there until recently.

The women's group will stay rent-free through the end of next year, thanks to unused funds from a grant the SBA gave up when it moved out. It will be the first home for NAWBO, which has operated out of conference rooms, restaurants and hotels.

"To come together, literally ... having decided to form a united front otherwise will make us both stronger," said local chapter President Billie Dragoo. "We're all about diversity ourselves; it's a natural fit."

The organizations say they hope their combined voice will reach more people.

Henderson expects NAWBO to help him broaden his reach, and Dragoo thinks the partnership also will help her membership.

"Men do a better job of sharing their networks," she said. "Women haven't traditionally done that as well. They're great leaders but a bit standoffish when it comes to sharing their networks."

The women's group also is hoping to tap into the council's newly honed and expanded database, Tradewinds, which helps members find minority businesses to work with.

Corporate IBDC members sent more than $969 million to minority firms last year, said council operations director Robert Taylor, up 40 percent from the year before.

Columbus-based Cummins Inc. recently used the electronic referral system to find vendors to help with advertising and Web site design, said Gordon Fykes, a Cummins executive and past chairman of the council.

Without the database, the council would have provided information on about 20 minority firms to Cummins, and the company would have called around until it found somone to do the job.

Instead, the council did the legwork, funneling bid specifications to 20 possible vendors, who decided on their own if they could meet the specs. In the end, only six companies responded to Cummins' bid, greatly reducing the work for Fykes.

The database is a huge benefit to member companies, but the council's greatest asset is its ability to help develop and grow minority businesses, Fykes said.

And he thinks partnering with NAWBO was a smart way to continue that strategy.

"I think it's a first to see one of the council chapters and a women's organization come together," Fykes said. "That will enhance the whole idea of cooperatives."

The council has become much more focused on forming partnerships, said Fykes, who was involved in the decision to hire Henderson.

And NAWBO isn't the only new partner.

The regional Small Business Development Center, which helps companies get off the ground by providing assistance with business plans, research and other resources, also will move into the Meridian Street offices.

"We wanted to create a cluster of smallbusiness activities," Henderson said. "We've come a long way, but we've still got a long way to go."
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