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Business

Certification: Private sector opportunities

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In the world of certification, the Tennessee Minority Supplier Development Council (TMSDC) has found its niche connecting minority businesses with private sector opportunities. With over 3,500 corporate partners, it would be difficult to find another agency with matching partners.

Carlee McCullough, Esq.: Mr. Keith Eakins, thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and knowledge with us. Tell us about yourself and how you became involved in promoting economic opportunities for minorities in business?

Keith Eakins: I currently hold the position of Supplier Diversity Manager for Volkswagen (VW) of America, Chattanooga Operations – the first VW plant in the United States, which produces the Passat. I am responsible for implementing initiatives of VW's supplier diversity program inclusive of minority- and female-owned businesses. Prior to joining Volkswagen, I was the manager of minority business development for Hyundai Motor Manufacturing in Montgomery, Ala.

CM: Please tell us about TMSDC?

KE: I serve as the chairman of the board of directors for TMSDC. The Tennessee Council is one of 36 affiliate regional councils of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), which is headquartered in New York, N.Y. The council provides a direct link between corporate purchasers and minority-owned suppliers. Our goal is to increase procurement and business opportunities for minority businesses of all sizes.

In 1994, TMSDC established the TMSDC Educational Foundation, a 501©3 which provides financial assistance to high school students. Since it was established, it has awarded in excess of $1 million to more than 225 at-risk students. Donations and gifts from MBEs, corporate members and individuals have allowed the foundation to enrich educational opportunities for deserving students who aspire to obtain a college education. The Foundation also provides assistance to certified minority businesses to further personal and professional development.

CM: How can a minority-owned business enterprise qualify for membership?

KE: The business must be a 51 percent minority-owned, for-profit entity physically located in the United States. The owner(s) must belong to one of the following ethnic groups: Asian, Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic or Native American, and actively involved in the daily management, operations, and control of the business.

CM: What are some of the benefits of certification?

KE: For the certified MBE, certification allows for inclusion in the Minority Business Information Systems (MBISYS), the NMSDC national database; executive business management scholarships for continuing education designed for executive education forf; networking opportunities with corporate buyers; access to working capital loans programs, for example the Business Consortium Fund. TMSDC hosts a variety of activities to bring corporate purchasers people together with certified affiliates, in formal and informal settings in order to foster long-term and mutually beneficial business relations.

CM: What are some common misconceptions about becoming a certified MBE?

KE: The main misconception is that TMSDC can obtain contracts for our members. Contracts are not guaranteed by TMSDC. The Council assists certified MBEs with introductions to corporate buyers and to facilitate networking opportunities. However, it is up to the minority business to position and present itself in a favorable manner.

CM: After a business becomes certified what should they do to maximize their opportunities?

KE: MBEs must be present to win. Active involvement and participation are essential to capitalizing on certified supplier opportunities. As often as possible, the MBE should be active participants in TMSDC activities, which will provide a direct opportunity to network with representatives from the corporate, government and non-profit sectors.

CM: What type of corporations would be interested in doing business with certified MWBE firms?

KE: TMSDC corporate members recognize the value of minority supplier certification, and often require it because they want to ensure that procurement opportunities are truly focused and targeted to bona-fide MBEs. The NMSDC network currently carries 3,600 major corporate members. NMSDC corporate member purchases from minority businesses exceed $100 billion.

CM: What advice would you provide for small businesses?

KE: Determine your target market through detailed research, with projections to extend 5-10 years out. Develop a listing of the top 10 corporate members in which you seek to do business, after having researched the company's culture, market niche, and scope, to determine if your products or services are a fit. Most importantly look at your ability to be competitive with other suppliers. Also make sure your company has the financial capacity to work with major corporations. The goal is to make you financially viable long term.

CM: Any closing remarks?

KE: "We are constantly seeking opportunities that reinforce Volkswagen's dedication to the inclusion of minority businesses in our procurement process." TMSDC President, Cheri Henderson, says, "One of the major tenants of our organization is to grow and to develop minority-owned businesses in Tennessee and beyond that can have an impact on the global marketplace." We need to explore how to become global players by easily following the blueprint of corporate America.

For additional information about TMSDC please visit www.tmsdc.net.

(Contact Carlee McCullough, Esq., at 5308 Cottonwood Road, Suite 1A, Memphis, TN 38118, or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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