By Peter Brennan
September 2000 - A big part of Mark Greene's job is to keep current on what's happening in government procurement. His company, Darman Building Supply Corp. of Queens Village, New York, has found a niche worth $7 million in annual revenues by supplying plumbing materials to prime contractors working on government buildings.
These days, Mr. Greene doesn't have to work the phones or trudge down to City Hall to unearth the latest contracts. Instead, he checks his faxes from Globe-1, a Bellevue, Washington-based company that aims to tell minority businesses where opportunity lies.
"They fax bid opportunities to me for the particular products that I sell," Mr. Greene relates. "It saves the time of having to constantly call and check. As busy as I am, it's very convenient for me. It minimizes the amount of bid opportunities I miss."
Local, state, and federal governments award contracts worth $450 billion annually, according to Rob Gilmore, CEO of Globe-1. But finding out about these business-to-government (B2G) contracts requires a lot of legwork. "The typical small company has a very small set of antennas to find out what's around them," Mr. Gilmore says. "We provide the antennas for these companies. We look for buyers and we get them access to opportunities that they wouldn't know about."
Globe-1 maintains a database of 48,000 minority- and woman-owned firms culled from larger databases, including one with 450,000 companies used by the Commerce Department, the State Department, and the Defense Department. Entrepreneurs can get their company on the database by calling Globe-1's toll-free number, (888) 860-3509. There is no charge to the vendor.
When a government agency notifies Globe-1 about a contract, the company sends the information to appropriate clients via fax or e-mail. Globe-1 also assists prime contractors who are looking for minority subcontractors.
For years, Globe-1 offered its services to municipal governments in cities such as New York and Seattle, which hired Globe-1 to assist them in informing minority-owned firms about their contracts. But now the company will make a big push to get the information online to minority-owned companies.
In June, the Commerce Department's Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) signed an agreement designating Globe-1 as the agency's sole source provider of electronic commerce solutions. In addition to providing information about city government contracts, Globe-1 will also be providing information about federal contracts in 10 cities – New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and Seattle.
Mr. Gilmore says a recent survey showed that minority firms have been dramatically affected by the Internet because a few years ago, a federal mandate dictated that procurement actions less than $100,000 should move online. That rule is starting to take effect, but many minority companies aren't aware of the changes.
"Federal e-commerce has slammed minority-owned companies very hard," he says. "Ninety-seven percent of minority-owned companies were eliminated [from federal procurement]. … It's mostly because suppliers weren't aware of changes in the process and how to engage in the process."
Although his wife is Venezuelan, Mr. Gilmore is not a minority himself. He got into diversity contracting as a sidetrack from his long-time career as a management consultant for city, state, and federal agencies. In 1995, the State of Washington hired him to establish a commerce system to link Washington companies with procurement opportunities. The project won the Ford Foundation Award for Innovation in American Government and the Council of State Governments Award for Innovation.
In 1996, Mr. Gilmore founded Globe-1 (www.Globe-1.com). It grew to have 100 investors, with Mr. Gilmore, the largest equity partner, holding 22 percent. In July, publicly traded Onvia.com bought Globe-1 for $26.7 million in stock.
Besides the MBDA, Globe-1 also has as federal clients both the Defense Department and a pilot program of USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development). The pilot program links four Balkan countries, South Africa, and the states of Georgia and Texas.
The future of federal procurement looks ever more technical, according to Mr. Gilmore. In response, Globe-1 rolled out an updated program just last month. "We spend a lot of time talking to buyers and suppliers. We're building the catalog for sellers and linking them to buyers," he says. "Electronic commerce is where we're going."
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