Blanca Robinson is the president of Women Business Enterprise Council South (WBENC South) and her mission is to help women succeed.
Carlee McCullough, Esq.: Please tell us about yourself and how you became interested in expanding and promoting economic opportunities for women in business?
Blanca Robinson: I have always been very passionate about women's issues and the challenges they face, especially in the business arena and certainly for those involved in very non-traditional fields for a woman.
CM: Tell us about the Women's Business Enterprise Council South (WBEC South).
BR: WBEC South is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides certification to businesses that are at least 51 percent woman-owned, managed, operated and controlled. We are a regional partner organization of the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), serving the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and the Florida Panhandle.
Through our partnership with WBENC, the certification we offer is nationally recognized and accepted by every major corporation across the U.S. We are also an approved third-party certifier for the SBA's WOSB certification (woman-owned small business) for those WBEs who may be interested in federal contracting opportunities and whose NAICS codes qualify for WOSB.
CM: What is a certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE)?
BR: It is a woman-owned business that has undergone an intense scrutiny and vetting process, and meets the criteria of ownership, management and control, contribution of capital and/or expertise, and independence.
CM: Why is certification important for WBEs?
BR: Nearly every major corporation across the country has a supplier diversity initiative and they are seeking women-owned firms for contracting opportunities. Through WBEC South, we help them make that connection.
CM: What are some of the benefits of certification?
BR: Certification helps to level the playing field. They become part of a national proprietary database that is accessed by the corporations across the country looking for WBEs. They have access to that database themselves so that they can in turn look for a contact within a given corporation and find out about opportunities. They are eligible to exhibit at our regional conference as well as at the national conference and business fair.
CM: With all of the different certifications, how does a business owner decide which certification is more beneficial for their company?
BR: It really depends on their target market. Do they want to do business with corporate America, federal government, or local municipalities? If they are interested in certain government contracts, we encourage them to contact the entity with which they wish to work to find out what certification(s) they accept.
CM: What are some common misconceptions about becoming a certified WBE firm?
BR: One thing that all WBEs need to keep in mind is that certification is a great marketing tool, nothing more. It will not guarantee a contract, nor should anyone think that corporations are going to start knocking on their doors immediately. The business owner still needs to get out there "hustle" her business, establish and build those relationships, and become actively engaged, meaning participate in regional and national events, network everywhere, and promote herself. She still needs to deliver on time and on budget.
CM: What type of corporations would be interested in doing business with a certified WBE firm?
BR: Nearly every major corporation has a supplier diversity initiative, and these industries are varied. We have corporate members who are in oil and gas, energy and utilities, automotive, financial, recreation, manufacturing, food services, insurance, retail, healthcare...you name it. They buy everything and we have WBEs who can supply nearly anything they need.
CM: How much does it cost to apply for certification?
BR: It is on a sliding fee scale, based on annual revenues shown on their latest tax return. For businesses with revenues under $1M, the fee is $350 and then increases.
CM: What advice would you provide for small businesses?
BR: Identify where you want go with your business and who you want to target. Find a niche and don't try to be everything to everybody. Be cognizant of your capabilities (or lack of), but do not feel that you are not ready for certification.
CM: Any closing remarks?
BR: One thing to keep in mind is that not all certified businesses are small entities or start-up companies. In WBEC South we have several businesses with annual revenues in excess of $100M, one at nearly $1B. About 50 percent of our WBEs have been in business for 10 years or more. By contrast, less than 8 percent have been in business for less than three years. Regardless of where they might fall, we want to help them succeed. Visit our website, www.wbecsouth.org, for additional information.