An App to Match Minority-Owned Businesses with Public Contracts

Safeena Mecklai and Tunisha Walker present the new MWBE Connect NY app, designed to help entrepreneurs find public contracts. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

“Graduation caps and gowns vendors,” read a recent public call for contractors made by a public college in New York. “I have also seen contracts for therapy services and to teach kids to ride and fix a bicycle,” said Safeena Mecklai, explaining that the contracts the city offers to minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) are not only for construction, IT or cleaning but for providers of a wide array of services.

The problem is that many MWBE-certified entrepreneurs (at least 50 percent of the company must be owned by a Latino, Black or Asian person or a woman) often have problems finding these state or city contracts and figuring out if their company qualifies to obtain them. As a result, they pass on many of these opportunities.

To address this problem, Mecklai and Tunisha Walker, vice presidents of strategic consulting firm Capalino+Company, launched an application to help minority or women business owners find opportunities to obtain contracts with New York City and New York state. The MWBE Connect NY app is now available for Android phones and iPhones. Once users fill out their company’s profile, they start receiving requests for proposals (RFPs) or sale bids for which they are eligible.

This is the first time that all offers made by public departments and agencies are listed on one site, saving hours of work for businesses that often lack the resources to do the research. The site includes ads for public contracts with the city or the state, which represent a stable source of income for certified companies. Because the city and the state provide services but do not manufacture anything, many of their services and goods – from school furniture to computers for municipal offices – are provided by subcontracted companies. A portion of all public contracts is reserved for MWBEs.

Eligibility for companies depends on a series of factors that are often unclear to interested parties and hard to untangle even after reading the RFP’s guidelines. Four experts at this consulting firm study them and personalize the information each business will receive.

In fact, as Mecklai explains, the idea for this app came from a problem they encountered with software development company Celeritas, a Capalino+Company client. During a meeting for a pre-proposal, they realized that it did not match Celeritas’ line of work. The company ended up creating the app just launched by the consulting firm.

As Walker points out, regardless of the company’s line of work, the more detailed the description entered in its profile, the better the filters will be able to match it with available opportunities on the market. Additionally, the app allows users to follow up on contracts and offer consultations.

Walker adds that the app is also handy for people who are not certified because it gives them an idea of the type of businesses that can be started with the city and the state. “There are offers for contracts many people don’t even know exist,” explains the consultant, who is used to the jargon found in public RFPs.

The app costs $75 per month if it is used per trimester or $50 per month through an annual subscription.

Good and bad times in the federal market

[President Donald Trump reportedly seeks to cut funding for the Minority Business Development agency that develops minority businesses.]

“It is not clear how this is going to impact minority businesses, but it will,” explained Tunisha Walker. In spite of this, the consultant expects to see more contracts once the new president’s investment and infrastructure plan is set in motion. At the state and city levels, new opportunities to subcontract this type of company have flourished, as the success of these enterprises is crucial to reducing economic inequality.

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