You are ready to get your minority business certified in Delaware. What now?

Beginning in the fall of 2022, Delaware business registration will require owners to have minority status.

So, you’ve checked the box and qualify as a Minority-Owned Business (MBE), Woman-Owned Business (WBE), Veteran-Owned Business (VOBE), Disabled Veteran-Owned Business (SDVOBE), and/or a Company Owned by People with Disabilities (IWDBE).

What’s the next step – and will certification actually impact your small business?

That Delaware Office of Supplier Diversity (OSD) urges that any company falling within the above five categories be voluntarily certified, whether or not they intend to compete for government contracts.

“It’s an additional mechanism for us to count how many different companies we have,” he said Shavonne White, the director of the OFD in Wilmington, to check the box as a first step in getting counted. “Before, you could either get certified through my office, or when you got an assignment and filled out the forms, there was a question there to determine your status. Otherwise we would have to look at the census data, which may not be as accurate.”

To understand why it’s important to know how many different companies there are, you only have to go back to the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Minority status data was collected when the OFD published the Delaware Relief Grant Application, and in the first round they found that they did not receive many applications from minority and women-owned businesses. After outreach to these communities, they saw the number of applications from minorities and women increase dramatically. They could also see that the acceptance rate for these groups was not as high as for non-minority/women-owned businesses – an issue they would not have recognized if they had not collected the data.

“That’s the key to this information,” White said. “That’s why we’re doing this. We want to make sure we can meet your needs, but if we don’t know what needs to be met, we can’t.”

The benefits of inclusion in the OSD directory

Once your company is certified, it will be listed in the OSD directory. The directory is public and can be used as a networking tool or to help established companies find newer business owners to mentor.

At the moment the directory contains almost 1,000 companies. It has grown since the company registration and renewal checkboxes were added in September, but is still a long way from including most qualifying companies. Most of the companies in the directory so far are the types of companies people think of when they think of government contracts in industries like construction, infrastructure, and technology. While these industries are required for contracts, they are only part of the picture.

“You might think you don’t have a product or service that the state offers, but you’d be very surprised,” White said. “If you look at what the states spend their money on – all transparent, all online – the state needs pizza. Pizza Fridays, that’s a real deal. Ice cream is a real contract.”

The state needs creatives, doers and services of all kinds. So do the private companies that use the directory.

“[The database] used by all 16 of our government agencies and also our private companies such as ChristianaCarelooking for different suppliers,” White said.

Benefits for OSD certified bidders

To ensure state agencies solicit bids from certified companies, Delaware has a policy that states that where a agency spends between $10,000 and $49,999 on a project, one of the three required bids must be from a vendor which is certified with the OSD. This could help your company get a foot in the door with government contracts in a state with no set supplier diversity goals and very limited reserves.

What you may not know is that as a Delaware certified company, you can then be certified to do business with other states – which have supplier diversity targets of up to 30% in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“Because we have neighboring states that are a little friendlier and have goals and set programs aside, we have providers seeking certification in those states,” White said. “You must first be certified in your home state before you can be certified in another state.”

Don’t be afraid of the application

If a qualifying business owner doesn’t think they’ll see direct impact from the voluntary certification, the 24-page application – currently a PDF form found here on the OSD website – could discourage them from proceeding. The length is necessary to ensure the applicant understands the certification process and what they need to apply for, including a notarized affidavit certifying that you are a member of one or more certification groups.

The process is on the way to being streamlined, with an online portal that will save paper and simplify the process, particularly on the OSD side. The user-friendly portal, which is in the early stages of development, will guide business owners through the application while containing the same amount of information that businesses need to know.

“There is a lot of important information that vendors should read before applying,” White said. “And then you have the application form. We need to ensure that you are eligible for certification, and [the portal] just going to simplify it. We can ensure that we collect and have all information available to better serve the needs of our businesses. This data collection is key, so we need to make sure you know we’re on the right track.”

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Once you’re certified, you can check out Delaware’s MyMarket procurement portal, where you can find available contracts and access resources; attend events hosted by Central Contracting Unit of Delaware; and join that OSD ListServ. But the potential goes beyond Delaware.

In the next and final part of this series, we will look beyond state lines and deeper into the potential for interstate and national sourcing and other opportunities for certified businesses in the region.

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