A Foundation for Success
As I travel across the US for various business needs or events, two of the questions I get asked the most by my fellow women entrepreneurs are, “Is it necessary to be certified as a Women-Owned business by an organization such as Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)?” And, “Does it help?”
While the answer to both questions is usually a straightforward YES, for those entering the supplier diversity field for the first time, it is more complex path to the same answer.
My journey in the IT staffing industry started with the inception of Artech Information Systems LLC, 25 years ago. I was working part time at Artech while attending law school. In the later part of the 90’s, at the time of the dot com bubble, I joined Artech full time to concentrate on growing the business. Thanks to the business acumen and determination of my immigrant parents, I knew, there were only a few key elements to success – hard work, always provide value, and always give the best quality performance.
But despite my best efforts to succeed, challenges continued to exist – to get my foot in the door, or how to level the playing field while providing the same services as the larger suppliers in the same space. With guidance from one of our large technology clients, we were able to get certified with WBENC through the Women President’s Educational Organization – NY (WPEO-NY) in 2001. The game hasn’t been the same since then.
From the beginning, it was important to understand that certification was no means of entitlement. Just because we had been certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) did not mean that business came flowing in without me laying the foundation to build a strong partnership with potential clients. Certification was and always has been a key means for me to get my foot in the door to large corporations and leveling the playing field when we’re competing with other companies that may have existing relationships. A demonstration of our certification leading to success was that in 2001, the year our certification was initially issued by WPEO-NY, Artech was generating $11 million in revenue in 2001. Today, we have exponentially grown our business to nearly $500 million in revenue as the #1 largest women-owned IT staffing firm in the US (Staffing Industry Analysts) – with 16 years of WBENC certification under our belt.
Our certification has also helped us expand our global footprint to countries such as India and China, to over 30 branch locations with over 7,200 employees today. We have utilized this to support global clients who are Corporate Members of the WBENC network and who utilize certified women-owned businesses. Denise Evans, Vice President of Market Development at IBM, applauded Artech during the WBENC Summit & Salute in 2015 and 2016 for leveraging a proven global deployment methodology and comprehensive depth of skill competencies. I am so grateful for our 17 years of partnership with IBM, they have constantly pushed us towards success.
While WBENC’s certification has helped Artech grow – it has also helped me, personally – as an individual and as an entrepreneur. WPEO-NY and WBENC over the years has provided me with numerous networking platforms and educational sessions to not only meet my peers but also form friendships and partnerships to last a lifetime. The Summit & Salute, annual conferences, brown bag luncheons, and more have given me venues to address challenges of accessing capital, to grow my business and to become aware of the different trends in the government and commercial sectors of the industry. It has also helped me to understand from peers how to go about various internal challenges and continue to prevail. There are countless ways in which WBENC has driven me, and Artech, to success.
While being certified has helped us to work with and compete with larger corporations, it has also helped us build and increase our diversity network by partnering with other women-owned business enterprises who we have been introduced to us through WBENC. Certification has helped us to identify our own suppliers who have been validated by a third party source such as WBENC. In 2015 alone, Artech spent nearly $61 million with diversity and non-diversity organizations. Some of these organizations include SBA, minority, and veteran owned businesses. Of the $61 million, over $2 million was spent with certified women-owned businesses (this figure does not include non-certified women-owned businesses which would account for a significant amount of the $61 million).
So in short, Yes! It’s key for a growing woman-owned business to strategically partner with an organization such as WBENC. Get certified and utilize all the tools that WBENC provides. Certification will help America’s top corporations identify you, and give you a level playing field to compete on. It will not only help you grow, but also help you add back to America’s economy and in turn create jobs for other women and minorities in the workforce.
In closing, I’d like to share a key piece of advice that I live by, which has made all the difference in my career… A positive attitude, self-confidence, and a fierce tenacity will go a long way in helping you succeed when the odds are stacked against you.