It sounds distinctly un-PC to admit that certain entities have advantages over certain others. But if the playing field is to be leveled for businesses, those businesses that are classified by the state of New Jersey as “disadvantaged” must be sought out, recognized, and offered an opportunity to play with the big boys.

On Wednesday, June 17, Rutgers will host its third biannual “Small and Disadvantaged Business Fair” at its Busch Campus Center in Piscataway beginning at 9:30 a.m. Free to attend and sponsored by the New Jersey Higher Education Procurement Association, the fair features dozens of college and university procurement departments, which make it a point to reach out to the state’s disadvantaged business owners and offer to share the wealth.

Visit www.njhepa.org/vendorfair2009.htm.

A disadvantaged business is one that is small and minority or woman-owned. Such businesses are considered disadvantaged from a diversity standpoint and because they typically do not have (or do not know where to find) the broad resources available to bigger businesses and corporations, according to Pamela McMellon-Wells, supplier diversity manager for Rutgers in Camden. Larger businesses often have whole departments tasked with ferreting out and jumping on bid contracts with higher education institutions. Small businesses, often run by just one or two people, do not always get to those opportunities.

NJHEPA started the Disadvantaged Business Fair in 2005 and holds it every two years in an effort to put business owners in front of the people and institutions looking to hire their services, McMellon-Wells says.

For her, stimulating the economy and generating business among disadvantaged businesses are one in the same. And the way to achieve both is to be proactive. A lot of businesses simply do not know what is available to them, nor where they can go to bid on contracts, she says. The Rutgers supplier diversity initiative, of which McMellon-Wells is in charge, expends much effort reaching out to businesses, educating them about what is available to them, and matching vendors with departments.

Before coming to Rutgers, McMellon-Wells was the news business manager at NBC10/ WCAU TV in Philadelphia, where she was responsible for all business, expenses, and transactions for the news division, as well as being responsible for the entire supplier diversity program there.

Rutgers itself espouses a policy of forging supplier relationships that reflect the school’s cultural diversity. As a state school, it is more subject to such strictures, and McMellon-Wells believes that such events as the Disadvantaged Business Fair have generated much business between the school and the small business community that would never otherwise have been in the running.

Princeton University will also be represented at the fair. Brian Rounsavill, the university’s associate director of purchasing, says that Princeton hosts quarterly get-togethers for small business owners with a goal similar to that of the fair. As a private school, Princeton is less bound by state guidelines demanding a certain degree of diversity between universities and suppliers. But small and disadvantaged businesses nevertheless are an important part of Princeton’s procurement/supply chain, Rounsavill says.

A nine-year veteran of Princeton’s procurement office, Rounsavill earned a bachelor’s from Moravian and an MBA from Lehigh. At Princeton he is in charge of negotiating vendor contracts and works to train small business owners how to navigate the university’s procurement system.

Princeton posts all biddable contracts online (web.prince-ton.edu/sites/TreasurersOffice/Purchasing/VBG/) and divides its bids by vendor classification. Rounsavill admits that it can be hard to navigate for the uninitiated, which is why the university holds quarterly sessions to teach people how to get in the game. Once vendors are entered into Princeton’s system, by vendor class and commodity code, those vendors are notified by E-mails targeting just those codes. Rounsavill says 15 to 20 vendors show up for each of these school-sponsored engagements, but that as many as 300 are likely to show for the fair.

The plan, he says, is to increase the size of the vendor pool and drive business through them.

If you want to do business with Princeton University, supply the necessary products and services; quote your best price the first time (bids are considered best and final offers); provide prompt and full service and support, and be willing to go the extra mile; develop a strategic business partner relationship; and be patient. The university might not need your services today, but it could tomorrow.

Bids are managed through the school’s website to ensure the broadest possible participation from a diverse pool of vendors.

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