As most of you know, starting a small business is hard. It can be difficult enough when selling to the general public, where things like advertising and promotions can be used. There’s an added element of difficulty when a company wants to receive government contract work.
This week’s small business spotlight is the not-for-profit, The Umbrella Initiative. They focus on connecting disadvantaged businesses with government contracting jobs. The Initiative has three components: teaming, training, and learning that work to educate small business owners on receiving local, State, and Federal contracts. They also strive to build an integral support system and network owners can use when starting the process of seeking contracts.
Ryan Reid of the Umbrella Initiative answered some questions I had:
1. How would you explain what you do to somebody’s grandmother?
The Umbrella Initiative is a project dedicated to helping small businesses successfully sell to the government – Federal, State, and Local. The project is a support system that consists of online tools, private and public support resources, education opportunities, registration and certification, legal support, and access to capital.
2. What made you use crowdSPRING?
crowdSPRING gave us two advantages: one, access to a large number of designers at a DOT-ORG price, and two, access to a large number of ideas on how our brand should (or could) look in a startup time frame. One of the main concepts behind the Umbrella Initiative is conceptually similar to crowdSPRING – a platform for collaboration – centered around a technology platform, supported by a crowd of diverse resources, all working together to help make businesses more successful.
3. What are some industry specific challenges you faced?
The Umbrella Initiative has three components – technology, people, and politics. We have an experienced team and great technology. The initial challenge was political. We need a top-down approach to get something of this size off the ground. We’re working now with the State of Florida to implement the Initiative and the Governor’s office has been extremely supportive. Our next challenge is size – there are 1,586 state buying agencies and literally thousands of private and public resources to integrate into the network.
4. What was your biggest learning curve/experience?
Our single largest challenge is really logistics – we have great political capital, great technology, and absolutely great intellectual capital. What we’re rushing to learn is how to best communicate our greatness to a large number of people across a diverse population.
5. What’s the craziest story you have from starting your own business?
We were at a gathering of minority businesses on April 15th in Jacksonville and the Lieutenant Governor of Florida stood up and pledged Executive Support to our project because (this is Jennifer Carroll’s quote) “The Umbrella Initiative offers actual solutions with measurable results to a State dilemma the Governor intends to solve.”
Not crazy, maybe, but the certainly the most welcome “on the spot” moment we could have hoped for.
6. How do you see your company growing in the future?
Our plan is to extend the Umbrella Initiative to every state in the country. Florida is the first (and thankfully very supportive), but what we’re doing applies to every small and disadvantaged business in the country.
This is hard stuff – selling to the government – especially without a great support network. We’re building that network – all under one umbrella.
7. Six words of advice to those looking to start their own company.
Get your political ducks in a row.
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