In the local market, various diversity certifications are offered by several entities, including The Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum, where Erica Powell is director of Member Registration.
Carlee McCullough, Esq.: Mrs. Powell thanks for taking the time to share your experiences and knowledge with us. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in expanding and promoting economic opportunities for minorities and women in business?
Erica Powell: I'm a native Memphian and graduate of Whitehaven High School. I've always had a true passion for helping others and The MMBC Continuum has positioned me to play an even greater role that promotes economic inclusion for minority and women owned businesses.
CM: Tell us about the Uniform Certification Agency.
EP: The Uniform Certification Agency (UCA) was formed in 1994 under the auspices of The MMBC Continuum. UCA is the certifying arm of The MMBC Continuum and handles the certification process for minority and women owned businesses.
CM: What is a certified Minority and/or Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE)?
EP: A business that has gone through a formal certification process to substantiate that it is at least 51 percent legitimately owned, operated and controlled by an ethnic minority or women.
CM: Why is certification important for M/WBEs?
EP: It assures corporations that have contract opportunities or other purchasing dollars allocated for minority and women owned businesses that those dollars are spent with true minority and women owned businesses. It levels the playing field and avails M/WBEs the chance to come to the table and offer solutions to major corporations via their products and/or services.
Our organization services a membership of major corporations including the who's who in Memphis: FedEx, International Paper, and Memphis Light Gas & Water to name a few. These corporations are seeking scalable M/WBEs that can provide for their specific business needs. Corporations need strategic partners who can help them become more efficient, profitable and reduce their cost. UCA is a conduit for certified businesses that have the capacity to service the needs of major corporations and those who have the potential to grow to scale.
CM: How does a business owner decide which certification is more beneficial for his or her company?
EP: As a business owner, first and foremost identify your target customer(s). Once identified, find out what it takes to do business with those customers. This would help the business owner make an informed decision about which certification would be most beneficial, if at all. The truth of the matter is that certification does not benefit every business and just because your company is certified it does not guarantee that you will automatically be awarded business.
CM: How long does the certification process take?
EP: The process can take up to 90 days, which is dependent upon the paperwork being submitted in a timely manner. To prevent delays, UCA tries to work closely with the applicant to address any questions and concerns to assure that they submit all the necessary documentation to complete the application process.
CM: What are some common misconceptions about becoming a certified M/WBE firm?
EP: There are some who believe that they are guaranteed contract opportunities once certified without having to competitively bid on the opportunity. At the end of the day, corporations expect a quality product/service, competitive pricing and timely delivery regardless of minority status or certification. There is also the misconception that the only requirement for certification is to be a minority or woman. A business has to meet this requirement but they also have to prove that they manage and control the day-to-day operation, which is based on federal regulations adapted by the UCA under 49CFR Part 26 and The MMBC Continuum.
CM: How much does it cost to apply for certification?
EP: There is a $300 non-refundable application processing fee for new applications and $125.00 to renew your certification annually.
CM: What support does UCA offer after a firm becomes certified?
EP: Once a firm is certified through the UCA they become a member of The MMBC Continuum. The MMBC Continuum offers a number of networking opportunities to connect with major corporations and other M/WBE firms, loan services and a working capital fund for construction related industries, Technical Assistance Development Pool (TADP) which offers training seminars and referral resources, the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center is a resource for businesses in high growth industries or firms with $1 million dollars in revenue and a host of other services geared to help businesses grow jobs and take their businesses to the next level.
CM: What advice would you provide for small businesses?
EP: Don't be afraid to be innovative and create a space in an untapped market or an underserved industry where your business has the potential to truly thrive and be on the cutting edge. There are opportunities in healthcare, manufacturing, exporting and other high growth industries that can take your business to the next level. What better time than now to seize the opportunity.
(For additional information about the certification process with The Mid-South Minority Business Continuum, call 901-525-6512 or visit www.mmbc-memphis.org.)