This October, StartUP FIU Procurement graduated its first cohort, a group of 11 minority-led small businesses that service the construction industry.
The small business incubator was born out of discussions about how information about FIU’s own contracting opportunities weren’t reaching minority-owned small businesses at the levels the university wanted. Turns out other anchor institutions around South Florida, including universities and government entities, were having similar issues.
After more research confirming the need – only about 9 percent of minority businesses were able to procure contracts within government or anchor institutions – and the realization that the community impact could be significant, Startup FIU Procurement, with JPMorgan Chase and the Health Foundation of South Florida as key partners, launched in October of 2018. Its program director is Barbara Cotto.
StartUP FIU Procurement’s 3-month-long incubator offers capacity building, business tools and networks to help small businesses become procurement-ready for both government contracting and in the private sector. They are taught by FIU’s faculty and facilities experts, as well as consultants with Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within the university’s College of Business, and the private sector. The next cohort – applications are now open – will begin in February and will be a general-focused cohort. All minority-led small businesses interested in government, university or private sector contracting are invited to apply.
The upcoming cohort will meet once a week on the FIU’s main campus from about 4 to 8 pm on one designated weekday every week. In addition, cohort members will come together on several Saturdays throughout the cohort. And they will schedule additional one-on-one consulting hours that adapt to their schedules.
A third cohort, again specialized on the construction industry, is planned to start around June, Cotto said. “We will continue to focus on the construction area. That is the third most growing industry in the South Florida region and is part of the economic development plan for South Florida for the next 5 years. It is also the low hanging fruit in terms of anchoring institutions and the opportunity to procure for small and minority-owned businesses in the area,” Cotto said.
While early cohorts are always learning experiences, the success of the first cohort, which graduated in October, is in the stories:
Gloria Fonseca of Fonsis LLC left her social work career to take the lead on running the family business, a full-service painting and carpentry company committed to promoting eco-friendly materials. Fonsis was able to win small contracts with different private entities but was seeking business from anchor institutions. “The biggest win for Gloria was she realized that because of the segment of business she’s in, she need partners. She has now been working with 5 of the 11 contractors in that cohort, and in addition she has been able to achieve several additional maintenance contracts. She has achieved about 20 contracts, most of them among the 8 team members,” said Cotto.
Networking is in Fonseca’s DNA but continuous learning is key. In 2020, Fonseca will focus her company on making new alliances among general contractors where Fonsis can serve as a subcontractor, optimizing the production process and creating a lead marketing campaign to promote eco-friendly products.
Oscar Vargas owns Sette Services, a commercial building and grounds maintenance company. Sette had a contract with UM, but Vargas wanted to learn new ways to connect with more entities, create more growth and employment, and participate in social responsibilities programs for the community. During the cohort, he was asked to do an assessment for FIU’s facilities department and won a small contract and then a larger one. “Through the cohort, he was able to connect with the project manager, to have that opportunity to be seen in action, and get the opportunity to procure,” Cotto said.
Vargas’ goals for 2020 include improving Sette Services’ marketing strategy via digital channels, continuing to develop strong ties with local municipalities and universities, and becoming 8(a) certified, which will help him win federal government contracts.
The inaugural cohort’s success is also in the numbers:
- Cohort members were able to secure 50 contracts worth $1.2 million in new business.
- Six of the cohort companies secured contracts or subcontracts with FIU
- One cohort company won a contract with Broward Schools and another one netted a contract with Miami-Dade County Schools.
If you are interested in StartUP FIU Procurement, apply here. But hurry, the application period for the General Cohort will close by mid-January.
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