San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ramiro A. Cavazos, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Richard Perez, former Mayor Henry Cisneros, SAHCC Board Chair Al Aguilar, Mayor Ivy Taylor, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Luxury Home Magazine owner Tomas Martinez, SAEDF President Mario Hernandez, and U.S. Small Business Administration District Director Anthony Ruiz pose for a photo after the launch of the Business Connect initiative. Photo courtesy of SAHCC's facebook.

The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is looking to facilitate big connections between small businesses and larger private and public sector clients during the first-ever Business Connect conference this fall. The chamber, with support from several key partners, is spearheading the annual event and online platform that will introduce local entrepreneurs with prospective local, regional, national and even international buyers.

The 2015 Business Connect will be held Nov. 3 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, and is free for any small business to participate. Aside from the City, the Hispanic Chamber is partnering with organizations including the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Bexar County, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation (SAEDF), the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos (AEM).

“Collaboration is a valuable commodity,” said Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber.

Hispanic Chamber Board Chairman Al Aguilar, the president and CEO of Creative Civilization, explained the Business Connect concept during a press conference Tuesday at City Hall. He said about 40,000 small-scale businesses employ 80% of the San Antonio-area workforce, translating into 80% of the purchasing power in the local market.

“Today’s small businesses are diverse and sophisticated,” Aguilar said, adding that local industries such as manufacturing, information technology, healthcare, biomedicine, marketing, and the arts keep expanding. “These businesses are ready and willing to compete for major contracts in the private and public sector.”

In past years, the obstacle for many local small businesses has been just that: access to opportunities to compete for contracts with larger firms and public agencies, city and business leaders. According to City Manager Sheryl Sculley, as soon as the Hispanic Chamber began organizing Business Connect, the City pledged its support due to the two groups’ long-standing partnership.

There also is a chance to “eliminate disparity” among small businesses, particularly women- and minority-owned enterprises, when it comes to competing for and landing contracts, Sculley added.

In fiscal year 2014, she said, City contracts yielded $98 million to local minority- and women-owned businesses, with $68 million of that coming in the same year as a result of the ongoing convention center expansion.

Business, community leaders, and local media gather for the Business Connect launch at City Hall. Front row from left: Former mayor Henry Cisneros, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, SAHCC Board Chair Al Aguilar, and SAHCCPresident and CEO Ramiro Cavazos. Photo courtesy of SAHCC's Facebook page.
Business, community leaders, and local media gather for the Business Connect launch at City Hall. Front row from left: Former mayor Henry Cisneros, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, SAHCC Board Chair Al Aguilar, and SAHCCPresident and CEO Ramiro Cavazos. Photo courtesy of SAHCC’s Facebook page.

Business Connect is more than just a networking platform, City and business leaders said. According to Mayor Ivy Taylor, these kinds of opportunities will help small businesses develop a more robust economy.

“The premise of moving from contacts to contracts is extremely valuable to businesses given the limited time they have,” Taylor said, adding that the evolution of resources such as Café Commerce, Geekdom, LiftFund and the University of Texas Institute for Economic Development has further helped area small businesses by filling gaps, ranging from financing options to workforce and workspace solutions.

Business Connect will also feature an H-E-B Small Business Educational Resource Center, a resource that aims to empower entrepreneurs with the tools needed to land contracts like information on how to obtain vendor registrations, business certifications, and technical assistance.

The event is more than two months away, but Aguilar recommended that small businesses register early to give prospective buyers time to pre-screen them and possibly set up interviews in advance of Business Connect. An online portal will enable participating small businesses to maintain communication, letting the Hispanic Chamber monitor the progress of each match made.

“We plan on measuring results and sharing the metrics,” he added.

Former Mayor Henry Cisneros, now chairing the San Antonio Chamber’s Board of Directors, called small business “the foundation” for a larger economy.

“A large employer can announce one day that it’s coming with 500 jobs and that makes the front page of the paper. But in any given month, small businesses generate hundreds of jobs,” Cisneros said. “Our goal is to be nothing less than the best city in the country for small business.”

Cisneros added that the growth of small businesses helps those owners and employees to build up their and their families’ personal wealth and quality of life and, by extension, the level of prosperity of their communities. Business Connect should result in “very effective matches” between small businesses, and between those entrepreneurs and larger entities.

Business Connect is designed to not only help existing small enterprises but start-ups, too.

“(Business Connect) means a lot to our members, our community. Making these connections means the businesses will stay in business and to grow,” said AEM Board President Roberto Espinosa.

SAEDF President Mario Hernandez said his organization’s retention program added 1,500 jobs to the community in 2014 by introducing small businesses to new suppliers and vendors, and to certain resources that can help them with business development practices. He encouraged prospective buyers big and medium sized to take part in Business Connect.

“Small business starts with big dreams and aspirations,” said Anthony Ruiz, the SBA district director. He added this agency would commit all of its resources to help ensure Business Connect is a success this year and in years to come. Bexar County Executive Director David Marquez said small businesses have become part of the “disruption” that merchants keep hearing about in commercial circles.

“The barriers to entering business have lowered,” Marquez said, adding that entrepreneurs – especially those in the growing local industries of information technology and cybersecurity – are turning ideas “into real value.”

Tomas Martinez, co-owner and operator of Luxury Home Magazine, said his company has greatly benefited from the connections he has made being a Hispanic Chamber member.

The publication just celebrated four years of existence and has seven total employees, five in San Antonio and two in a new market, Austin, with expansion planned in Houston. Martinez said he and his wife, who is also his business partner, took out several personal loans to help get their product off the ground. Now comes the chance for such small businesses to reach another level, he explained.

“An event like this gives small business the opportunity to get in front of businesses they typically would never have the chance of getting in front of,” Martinez said. “Small businesses, most of the time, only need that shot, that introduction. My being part of the Hispanic Chamber has done that. It has gotten me in the right rooms, with the right people.”

Martinez emphasized the importance of not only making connections, but accessing the right tools.

“Resources are tough but one of the things I’ve learned as a small business owner, is to get help. Get a coach, get mentors. I think Business Connect can help small businesses to meet possible mentors that can help them grow to the next level.”

*Featured/top image: San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Richard Perez, former Mayor Henry Cisneros, SAHCC Board Chair Al Aguilar, Mayor Ivy Taylor, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Luxury Home Magazine  owner Tomas Martinez, SAEDF President Mario Hernandez, and U.S. Small Business Administration District Director Anthony Ruiz pose for a photo after the launch of  the Business Connect initiative. Photo courtesy of SAHCC’s Facebook page.

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.