South Florida counties unveil digital ‘marketplace’ boosting contract access for minority small businesses

Nineteen public and private healthcare, education and government organizations across South Florida have joined forces to create a new digital platform designed to boost contracting opportunities for local minority-owned small businesses .

The AI-powered “Regional Marketplace” is set to launch this fall with a $1.2 million investment from the South Florida Health Foundationis to serve as a municipal supplier pool from which local anchor organizations can attract contractors.

Leading the charge is a conglomeration of South Florida institutions – including Miami-Dade and Broward, their public school districts, Florida International University, Broward College, University of Miami, UHealth and Broward Health – who together formed the South Florida Anchor Alliance (SFAA) at the end of 2020.

Baptist Health South Florida, Florida Memorial University (FMU), and the cities of Lauderhill, Miami, Miami Beach, and Miami Gardens are also participating.

The platform presents a new way for underrepresented small businesses to learn how to participate in public markets and for deep-pocketed organizations to spend more equitably, says the President and CEO of the Health Foundation Loreen Singing said.

And that’s a lot of money spent; the 19 institutions participating in the program pay an average of $8 billion a year in goods and services.

“Imagine, if we could move the needle by even a small percentage point, the amount of wealth, dollars and prosperity we can move in our communities,” Chant said. “If we can work together, set the table, and then focus on increasing opportunity… think about what that might look like for the neighborhoods and communities we serve. »

The 19 participating “anchor institutions” in Miami-Dade and Broward counties participating in the program spend a total of $8 billion annually on goods and services. Image via 3PM Media.

On Wednesday, FMU hosted hundreds of local stakeholders at a conference unveiling the platform, which is tentatively set to begin operations in September. UFA President Jaffus Hardrick described it as a “one stop shop”.

But while the marketplace is supposed to provide a single, pre-approved pool of vendors that institutions can draw from, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

This is where the AI ​​comes in. Alliance members will be able to log into an online portal and enter details about a pending project. The portal will then use an algorithm to match that member with the small business that best matches the needs of the project and any organization-specific specifications.

“It’s configurable,” said Sky Kelleyfounder and CEO of Avisarethe Los Angeles-based software company whose AI powers the market.

“If we waited for all these organizations to agree on everything, we would never get there,” she said. “Each organization can use it in whatever way suits them best based on their rules, regulations, etc. The difference is that everything is shared on this network – the information, the suppliers, the opportunities – and you have an organization like the Health Foundation of South Florida who can take that data at all levels and then work to change the policies of those organizations.”

Sky Kelley, CEO of Avisare, the company that designed the AI ​​that powers the SFAA market. Image via 3PM Media.

To enter and remain in the market, a company only needs approval from one participating institution. He is then there to be considered for all future contract opportunities.

Lisa Martinezwho works as a lead facilitator for the SFAA, said that in keeping with the spirit of the initiative, the alliance first sought out a local company to provide the software needed to run the platform.

It was not easy. The system needed to be able to connect the right companies to the right contract opportunities, but it also needed to work with a number of different procurement portals, like Auction synchronizationthat each institution uses.

Martinez said the group looked at a Broward company called Government, which was “beginning to test the waters” for the kind of service the SFAA was looking for. But he hadn’t gotten there yet. Avisare, on the other hand, was ready to roll, having provided similar services to Los Angeles County and a local municipality.

For the Mayor of Miami-Dade Daniella Levine Cavawho before entering politics founded and directed the non-profit association Miami Catalystthe SFAA marketplace is the culmination of years of work and research.

More than eight years ago, while serving on the Miami-Dade Commission, Levine Cava passed legislation authorizing a study of community wealth disparities. The result reportsponsored by a philanthropic arm of Townhighlighted how failure to close the county’s “prosperity gap” could result in a “drag on the broader regional economy.”

Citi recently donated $500,000 to the Health Foundation to continue funding the market.

“It’s about the power of perseverance,” Levine Cava said. “Obviously it’s the right thing to do. Why shouldn’t we take our local money and use it to invest in our local people? What could be more obvious than that?

Hundreds of local stakeholders gathered at Florida Memorial University to celebrate historic regional collaboration. Image via 3PM Media.

Mayor of Broward Michael Udine discussed how the county pledged to distribute at least 25% of its annual contracts, valued at around $250 million, to small businesses and minority-owned businesses.

“We intend to deliver on that promise,” he said. “We buy a lot of stuff, (and) as South Florida goes up, we’re all going to go up.”

Black Americans generally face greater challenges than their white counterparts. Pre-pandemic figures by the Federal Reserve showed that the median net worth of white families was $188,200 nationally, or 7.8 times that of their black peers.

“This wealth gap translates into many other disparities, including in business ownership, which is strongly influenced by individual and family wealth,” researchers from the Brookings Institute written in February.

In 2019, just 2.3% of the nearly 5.78 million employing businesses across the country — businesses with more than one employee — were black-owned. Black Americans, meanwhile, constitute more than 14% of the population.

This holds true even in South Florida, despite its reputation as a prime region for black and Hispanic entrepreneurs. In January, Hispanic Unity of Florida and the Urban League of Broward County released a pair of studies highlighting what they described as “alarming gaps in opportunity» for the inhabitants of the department.

Bibi Hidalgowho oversees government contracts and business development for the US Small Business Administration and worked with her late brother, Patrick Hidalgounder the president barack obamasaid the SFAA market is the first program of its kind.

But she hopes he won’t be alone for long. As she travels the country, she plans to raise awareness about the platform and its potential.

“I’ve met some of the most innovative and extraordinary minority-owned businesses in the country,” she said. “We have so many innovators here in Miami who are just looking for this opportunity to grow these relationships.

“That’s what this collaboration is about. The next step is to create those relationships, those networks, that wouldn’t happen otherwise and allow people to have access to opportunities.

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