In 2011, President Barack Obama launched StartUp America, a White House initiative targeted to increase entrepreneurship throughout the nation. Since its debut, Memphis government and business leaders have focused and dedicated resources and energy to augment entrepreneurship education and support.
To continue such efforts, the city of Memphis has partnered with the Memphis Office of Resources and Enterprise (MORE) to host the Government Procurement Vendor Fair on March 12th at The Lemoyne-Owen College. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Business owners will have the opportunities to network with local and federal government agencies as well as learn how to obtain resources available to improve their business internally and externally.
"We want to target minority-owned and women-owned business, primarily," Alandas Dobbins, director of MORE, said. "We also want to open our doors for big businesses as well."
Dobbins said this year's fair has been a major focus for the city. Last year, MORE was not a major partner with the city in hosting the fair. As an official partner, her office's vision is to boost entrepreneurial knowledge and debunk stereotypes and negative images of Memphis.
"Memphis has been known as the bankruptcy capital of the nation and we want to be the solution to the problem," said Dobbins.
In past years, Memphis's reputation has reflected images of poverty and challenges associated with education and crime – none of which have dramatically motivated business owners to readily move to the Bluff City, Dobbins said. Alongside the City of Memphis and Strong Cities, Strong Communities, MORE wants to promote Memphis as a capital city where financial wealth and growth can happen.
"We want to make Memphis the true city of choice it can be," she said.
While Memphis has a broad history of entrepreneurship, Dobbins believes the lack of education from one generation to the next has caused the African American community to become disconnected from its entrepreneurial roots.
"I don't disagree with her," said Roby S. Williams, president of the Black Business Association. "Fewer than 1 percent of people in America will be a successful entrepreneur. It's not for everybody."
Williams, serving his 12th term as president of the BBA, said that owning a business takes acquired skills and committed dedication. From accounting to marketing to customer service, minority-owned businesses need to invest in the education of entrepreneurship before embarking on such a tremendous task.
"The most successful and well-equipped entrepreneurs have clear visions, solid strategies, practical processes and consistent executions," said Williams. "Education is the conduit to acquire these skills."
Women-owned businesses, another focus for the fair, have steadily sparked interest within the past 10 years. According to the 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, Tennessee ranked No. 14 in the U.S. for growth of women-owned businesses, generating more than 70 percent of revenue in a 16-year study period.
Dobbins said she wants businesses owners to walk away from the Government Procurement Vendor Fair with a wealth of knowledge in operating their businesses and that it is designed to provide people with what they need to be successful.
Williams wants minority businesses to take advantage of the resources available to them and the bidding process during the fair.
"I've never known anyone to win a contract when they did not submit a bid. I'm hopeful all in attendance will understand the process and get in the game," he said.
"If you do not try, you have already lost."
The fair is free and open to the public.
(For a list of vendors and fair agenda, visit http://www.memphistn.gov/Government/FinanceDivision/ProcurementVendorFair.aspx)