November 09, 2023

Congrats to Chamber Investor, Jessica Scanlon, on Obtaining Women-Owned Business Certification

The Chamber’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council recently started exploring certifications and how they might help chamber members with retention and recruiting and with gaining new business markets.

Chamber member Jessica Scanlon, owner of Hot Dog Marketing, recently went through the process for the Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) Woman-owned Business Enterprise (WBE) certification and the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council (NMSDC) Minority-owned Business Enterprise (MBE) certification. In this interview, she shares what it was like, what she learned, and what she gained as a result.

Q:  Tell us a little about the certifications, in general, i.e., the certifying organization and the basic qualifications.

Both the WBENC and the NMSDC certifications are nationally recognized certifications that procurement and supply professionals look for when they’re making sure their vendor mix is diverse and supportive of a wider mix of small businesses. In some cases, these certifications are recognized in other countries. The goal of the certification is to ensure these procurement professionals that no one is playing the system so-to-speak. They’re a stamp of approval that, indeed, these certified businesses are truly businesses owned and operated by a minority or female owner.

Qualifications for both certifications is that the business is 51% owned by women or a minority. In both cases, you have to share your government issued ID along with legal paperwork and tax documents. For the MBE certification, you have to have a birth certificate or something else official that proves your racial background. In my case, I used my birth certificate because it listed my mother on it as Korean.

Q:   What made you decide to seek certification?

Mostly clarity I gained from talking to a board member of the Regional Partner Organization (RPO) of WBENC, Melinda Zito O’Brien, also a Round Rock Chamber investor. Years ago, our business went through the rigor of getting our WBE/MBE certifications through the small business program in Austin and through the State of Texas which has its own designation for businesses like mine, the Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) certification. I thought that was the certification I needed for everything, but I was confused!

The HUB designation mainly helps you gain public sector opportunities or sub-contracting opportunities with larger companies going after public sector work. The City of Austin’s program is specifically for their own vendor diversity program. We’ve leveraged our HUB in this way but didn’t realize it’s not what private sector organizations recognize. In addition, HUB certification requires a personal net worth statement. If you’re successful, eventually, you’ll grow out of your HUB certification, but not your WBE/MBE certifications from the national councils.

Hot Dog Marketing is well positioned to provide services to larger organizations, but like other companies our size, it’s not easy to get our foot in the door. These WBE/MBE certifications add us to an approved vendor list at the councils that organizations search when they’re looking for someone, but they also get you into networking opportunities to meet with these larger companies that want to add more WBE/MBE’s to their outsourcing opportunities. We got our certifications this year and fully plan to take advantage of the networking opportunities these certifications provide.

Q:  What was the most difficult part of the process?  How long did it take? Was there a fee?

You know, the hardest part is understanding how it works and how to get started. WBENC and NMSDC require that you get certified through your local RPO. If you try to Google that, forget it – it’s too confusing. Austin/Round Rock businesses should go through the WBENC RPO in Dallas and the NMSDC RPO in Austin. Both have a small fee to submit your application, and both have have portals that you create a login for and follow the steps to submit paperwork and answer questions. You can usually find a preparation packet on the websites before you get started so you can get organized before you start the process.

Once you do one, the other one is easy because the requirements are similar. And if you’ve done HUB certification, it’s also very similar and you can reuse a lot of the same documents. Organizing the paperwork took a few days for me to pull together with the help of our team. Completing the application only takes a couple of hours. Depending how busy the RPO officials are, certification can take 30-90 days to get from the organization. You need to pay attention to notification emails you get from the portals because they may require a site visit or clarification might be needed on something you submitted.

Q:  What would you recommend to others seeking this certification?

Talk to me or Melinda or other Chamber investors that have these certifications. Getting started is probably the hardest part and then taking advantage of the opportunities after you’re certified requires encouragement.

Q:  Did you see any immediate results from obtaining the certification? 

I am discovering that companies and public sector organizations are being more proactive in hiring vendors from a diverse background which is great. For example, Texas State proactively reached out to get bid sheets from HUBs for future work. I attended an ISD conference in DFW last week organized by the NMSDC where different school districts were there to help get vendors registered in their systems and help them figure out who to connect with at their school district. I attended, upon Melinda’s reference, a conference in Orlando where I met some potential regular clients and got on the vendor list of two larger enterprises with follow-up meetings.

Q:  What would you recommend to others seeking this certification? How would they go about starting the process?

Visit these links to get more information, but any Chamber investor seeking out information can contact me! I don’t know everything, but I’m happy to help.

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