The College Board has started a program trustees hope will ease the procurement process between minority-owned businesses and state universities.
The Mississippi Public University Minority Economic Opportunity Initiative is designed to ensure minority-owned businesses have everything they need to be included in the bidding process when universities start one.
“The Board of Trustees has asked all of Mississippi’s eight public universities to focus on diversity efforts,” board president Bob Owens said in a news release. “In addition to increasing diversity among students, faculty and staff, we have also asked universities to seek ways to include more minority businesses in the bidding process when they request quotes and bids on goods and services.”
Trustees contracted with Where2Go411.com, a platform that connects vendors and buyers through a quote feature on its website. Minority-owned businesses can use it to post information about their services. In return, universities can send and receive quotes, proposals and subcontracting opportunities through the website.
C.D. Smith, chair of the board’s diversity committee, said the web interaction should allow the targeted businesses to be aware of opportunities and be able to respond to them.
“The Minority Economic Opportunity Initiative is an important step forward in reaching the Board of Trustees’ goal of increasing diversity on our university campuses,” said Trustee C.D. Smith, chair of the Board’s Diversity Committee. “The website will be a great tool to give both the universities and the minority businesses the information they need to access the opportunities to work together. Our goal is to expand opportunities and help minority businesses to grow and thrive.”
Any business is eligible for listing on the site, but minority businesses will be recruited for inclusion in its featured listing section. The section will provide access to the Quote, RFP, Subcontracting Opportunity solicitations (QRSO).
The procurement officers at each university campus will receive training on how to post opportunities to the site and how to use it to retrieve quotes and information from the vendors.
“The ability to use the site to request quotes and track the outcome, including when a vendor does or does not submit a proposal and whether the vendor receives the bid, will save our universities time and effort,” said Dr. Hank M. Bounds, Commissioner of Higher Education. “It will also provide data for future decision-making.”
Mississippi Public Universities already have a number of methods to connect their procurement arms with minority-owned businesses, including holding minority vendor fairs on campuses.
The cost of the initiative is unclear. An IHL spokesperson did not return a message seeking comment earlier this week.
In all, Mississippi’s public universities executed $13.7 million in contracts as of Dec. 31, 2012, according to figures from the agency.
Of the 120 contracts, 29 went to those identified as “under-utilized contractors.” That includes women- and minority-owned businesses.