More than 200 local, small businesses registered for face time with representatives of about 50 potential buyers in the public and private sector at the first Business Connect event on Tuesday at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SAHCC) is spearheading the program that works to match emerging local minority, and female-owned ventures with a variety of large organizations that work at the local, regional, and national level.
The Hispanic Chamber launched Business Connect earlier this year and has been consistent in showcasing the commitment that private and public sector leaders have made toward doing more business with fledgling entrepreneurs.
Potential buyers and vendors made appointments to meet each other for “business matchmaking” in one room. In another hall, H-E-B sponsored a small business educational resource center.
A luncheon also was held to recognize organizations – specifically Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas and Brooks City Base – and their efforts to enhance their procurement practices to provide wider opportunity for small, minority and female-owned businesses.
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, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos (AEM) to support Business Connect.
Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber, told the luncheon crowd that many of the public and private sector organizations meeting with small business owners on Tuesday are critical for the success of the local economy.
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. Cavazos added that Business Connect fulfills the Hispanic Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Al Aguilar’s vision of propelling commercial “connections into tangible opportunities.”
Cavazos thanked H-E-B for sponsoring the resource center for Tuesday’s event, saying the participants helped potential contracting vendors and suppliers with valuable information.
“Not everybody is ready to compete for a contract from the get-go,” Cavazos said, adding that small businesses learned about certification and other tools necessary to get a leg up on competition in the bidding process. He also stressed the importance of persistence, even in the face of failure.
“Don’t give up. Those who are successful today lost but learned to win,” he said.
Aguilar told the crowd he is pleased that so many parts of the area’s private and public sector are coming together to discuss the role small businesses play in the growth of the City. It’s all about having a chance to eventually succeed, he said.
“Some of us never get that opportunity to get our foot in the door,” Aguilar said. Small businesses can use Business Connect as a tool for connecting with the larger community, and it helps potential buyers and sellers “reach contracts that are mutually beneficial.”
Aguilar said he has an ambitious mission for the local small business community, and he believes Business Connect could help.
“Of the 40,000 small businesses we have, only 1,000 of them generate annual revenue of $1 million or more,” he said. “We have a lofty goal. We want 5,000 small businesses to generate revenue of $1 million or more.”
Mayor Ivy Taylor said the fostering of small business development and a more diverse, skilled workforce are crucial for the city’s economic vitality.
In addition to opportunity, mentoring and shared success among small businesses are important for a community, Mayor Taylor said.
She explained that businesses helping each other, particularly women and minority-owned ventures, lead to greater opportunities and more positive outcomes in a community. Growing up in Brooklyn, Taylor said she lacked such role models during her adolescent years.
“I didn’t have someone at the local level, in my neighborhood, that could show me a possible future as a businesswoman,” the Mayor recalled.
Mayor Taylor added that all participating public and private sector organizations, large and small, could serve as mentors for small business owners learning about the bidding, supplier, and vending process.
Local businesses and advocacy organizations are focusing more on mentoring small businesses, sharing both success and failure stories. Last week, the San Antonio workforce welcomed a new graduating class of entrepreneurs from Business Empowerment (BE), a mentor/protégé program led by the San Antonio Economic Development Department (EDD) and Alamo Colleges. The BE San Antonio program emphasizes aiding small, minority and women-owned businesses that are competing for contracts with the City. Mayor Taylor said various industry leaders continue to encourage innovation and collaboration among an array of enterprises, leading to a more comprehensive, healthy, diverse business ecosystem.
“San Antonio is a fabulous, excellent place for entrepreneurs because we work so hard to transmit an image of an ecosystem that supports small, women and minority business owners,” Taylor said. She added that Business Connect and other resources at Tuesday’s event should serve as an example of the collaborative spirit among local private and public sector organizations.
The Hispanic Chamber presented awards, named after the renowned local business leader Max Navarro, honoring Brooks City Base and Toyota Texas as the best local public and private sector organizations with unique, positive procurement systems. Those two organizations scored the highest among 16 local public agencies surveyed by the Hispanic Chamber.
Accepting the award on his organization’s behalf, Brooks City Base President and CEO Leo Gomez thanked Mayor Taylor and Hispanic Chamber officials for all that they do to support local commerce.
“We accept the award really and truly because of all the entrepreneurs who are really striving to be the best in doing business with our public entities,” Gomez said.
Cavazos said Toyota’s decision to operate a manufacturing plant in San Antonio more than 10 years ago was transformative because the automotive giant stressed the importance of doing business with local women and minority owned suppliers and vendors. Plus, Toyota’s arrival led to the establishment of smaller automotive-related manufacturing companies in the area.
In the past year, Toyota Texas added two new suppliers, including Forma Automotive, owned by Rosa Santana. It is the first direct Tier 1, Hispanic-owned enterprise to supply Toyota. Forma assembles Tacoma truck beds at the Toyota plant.
“Today, we employ 6,000 employees between our suppliers and (Toyota Texas),” Mario Lozoya, government relations director for Toyota Texas, said about his company. “We continue to be a huge economic driver for this community.”
*Top image: Alejandra Lopez (second from right), assistant director of the Small Business office at the San Antonio Economic Development Department, takes part in a Business Connect panel. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.