As a minority business owner, Rodney Gullatte Jr. says it’s important for his counterparts to get out of their silos.
“I’m the only black person in most places that I do business,” said Gullatte, the owner of Firma IT Solutions and Services. One way he deals with that is to be highly visible in the community and join organizations such as the Rotary Club, Better Business Bureau and BNI Strategic Alliances chapter. But he knows that many minority business owners feel isolated.
“A lot of people are siloed out here; I want to get them out of their silos,” he said. “There are a lot of people who don’t know about resources in the community because of the silo issue.”
That’s why Gullatte is inviting his peers to attend the Minority and Small Business Enterprise Diversity Summit on March 7 at the Hotel Eleganté.
Speakers at the summit include Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and Tatiana Bailey, director of the UCCS Economic Forum. An afternoon panel discussion will feature representatives from the Better Business Bureau, Small Business Development Center, Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center, El Paso County Contracts and Procurement Division and Colorado Springs Utilities.
Attendees will learn about the role minority business enterprises and diversity play in economic growth, the growing minority presence in Colorado’s population and how minority owners can access local and regional opportunities to elevate their businesses.
Just as important, the summit will be an occasion for networking and sharing ideas.
“There are not a whole lot of organizations that pull minority businesses together so that we have a sense of community,” Gullatte said. “At this summit, there’s going to be a lot of minority business people that meet each other for the first time. Just by being in the same room, new connections will be made.”
The summit also will be an opportunity for minority business owners to share their challenges and successes with community leaders such as Suthers.
“The issues that we say are important are only seen as important by decision makers when they see people come out and prove to them that it is,” said Anthony Perez, director of the Colorado Springs Hispanic Business Council. “When leaders see people invest their time to come out and voice their opinions and share their concerns, then the community’s priorities become the leaders’ priorities.”
The summit is sponsored by the Hispanic Business Council, Colorado Minority Business Office, Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, Mountain Plains Minority Supplier Development Council and the Colorado Springs Business Journal.
“I believe how the next 10 years look for our community will be determined by the success of this event,” Perez said.
State’s diverse population
Colorado is already fairly diverse in population and becoming more so, said Bailey, who will present forecasts of diversity trends in Colorado and the United States at the summit.
“By 2050, 58 percent of the children in the state of Colorado will be some type of minority,” Bailey said. “In the working-age cohort, 18 and over, the proportions are still pretty high: 40 to 50 percent.”
The implications of this growth will be huge.
“We do not have minority entrepreneurship in relation to the population — I suspect it’s not even close,” Bailey said. “Immigrants tend to start businesses at a higher rate because they are willing to take risks. Minorities as a whole, however, lag behind the average American in terms of starting new businesses. Part of that is tied to the availability of capital, and it is not a positive trend.”
The diversity summit is an opportunity to look at the facts about minority business representation and call attention to what needs improvement.
“If we improve the state of affairs for tomorrow’s minorities, as a nation we are much more likely to excel,” Bailey said.
Prospects for minority businesses
The summit also will let attendees know what efforts are going on now to support minority-owned businesses and how businesses can be unique and creative in taking advantage of financial opportunities that arise from diversity.
In 2012, about 86,000 Colorado firms were minority-owned, said Rosy McDonough, director of the Colorado Minority Business Office in Denver. These businesses constitute about 16 percent of all firms in the state and account for $13.5 billion in annual revenue. Hispanic-owned firms represent about 51,000 of those businesses and produce about $6.1 billion in revenue.
The Minority Business Office focuses on helping women- and minority-owned businesses navigate complex government contracting systems.
“We do this by free consulting services, providing information about networking events in which they can find contracting opportunities, and creating mentor-protégé relationships,” McDonough said.
The office assists businesses in obtaining government contracting certifications and registering in databases and platforms that issue job opportunity and contracting alerts. The summit “will be a great opportunity for them to meet some of the government representatives and to find resources they may not know about,” McDonough said.
The Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center partners with the MBO to assist local women-, veteran- and minority-owned businesses, SBDC Director Aikta Marcoulier said.
For example, “we have a Connect2DOT program that overlaps with the MBO program to assist business with enterprise certifications to work with [the Colorado Department of Transportation],” Marcoulier said.
The SBDC can also provide general business assistance from accounting procedures to workshops on starting a business.
Learning more about disparity
Besides providing networking and a wealth of information, Perez hopes the summit will begin a discussion about the need for a disparity study for Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
Denver completed a disparity study in 2011 that provided evidence to support and expand the city’s Minority and Women-owned Business enterprise programs and provided aspirational goals for the city’s procurement practices.
Denver began a new disparity study in July to look at how often women- and minority-owned businesses are going after and winning bids for the city and how the city’s procurement processes can be bolstered to further level the playing field for minority businesses.
The Springs business community “would benefit from running a disparity study (such as Denver and other larger cities) so that we have a better understanding of barriers and factors that affect minority businesses in business growth and find out what we are doing right and what we could do better in assisting our businesses with contracting opportunities,” Marcoulier said.
Increased opportunities for minority-owned businesses will come with projected growth in Colorado Springs’ population, she said.
“A lot of ideas and projects are beginning to roll out at the airport” and in connection with the City for Champions project, Perez said. “Business people need to be aware of them and positioning themselves so they can bid for those opportunities.”
IF YOU GO
What: Colorado Springs Minority and Small Business Enterprise Diversity Summit
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. March 7
Where: Hotel Eleganté Conference and Event Center, 2886 S. Circle Drive
Cost: $25 includes lunch and two complimentary drink tickets for after-hours social event