Three years after taking the reins as the chief executive officer of the Initiative for a New Economy, Milton Benjamin says the organization is helping minority-owned firms make progress “one company at a time.” (Banner file photo)
Sixteen years ago, Anthony Samuels started a small janitorial company aptly named Done Right Building Services.
Over the years, Samuels quietly built a client base throughout New England that included the Jewelers Building in downtown Boston and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, as well as several other banks and government office buildings.
But Samuels wanted to take his small business to the next level. So he called Milton Benjamin.
Three years ago, Benjamin left his job as president of the Massachusetts Community Development Finance Corporation and began work as the chief executive officer of the Initiative for a New Economy (INE). A virtual startup, INE proudly proclaimed that it would improve the state of minority-owned businesses throughout the state — one company at a time.
Samuels had such a company.
“We saw that Done Right had high potential,” Benjamin recalls. “He had decent contracts already in place and we wanted to help him build his infrastructure in order to grow in the future.”
That meant helping Samuels secure more financing — and bigger clients. But before Samuels was ready to take the next step, INE examined all of Done Right’s financial books, reviewed its accounting and record-keeping procedures, analyzed its technological capacities and assessed its human resources.
Samuels had only one word for INE’s vetting process: “Thorough.”
So thorough, in fact, that of the 60,000 minority-owned firms in the initial pool of candidates, only about 200 made it through the first round of vetting. Of those 200, about 50 are still in the mix and have benefited from their INE relationship by increased business and, arguably more important, increased knowledge.
The other part of the equation, as Benjamin likes to point out, is the active participation of major corporations as mentors to minority business owners.
“It’s a two-way street,” Benjamin said. “What we have seen is the willingness of companies to invest their technical skills and their personal time in the growth and development of minority firms.”
As a result, INE must be thorough. It’s often in the middle and finds itself advocating for both sides. But the goal, as Benjamin points out, is not just meeting requirements. It’s winning.
“There’s a perception out there that minority-owned firms can’t make it in Massachusetts,” Benjamin said. “We are changing that. Not only can minority firms make it in Massachusetts, they can do pretty well.”
In three short years — and in one of the worst economic downturns in decades — INE says it has already created 200 jobs and millions of dollars in added revenues for minority-owned business across the state.
“We are betting on the economy,” Benjamin explained. “If companies watch their expenses but continue to create new contacts and business opportunities, they will be in a stronger position to participate in the economy when the economy returns.”
Just ask Samuels. Done Right recently landed a new contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA).
“You can’t put a price on access,” Samuels said.
Nor preparation. One of things that Benjamin learned was that Samuels had submitted numerous bids for different jobs. But when he didn’t receive the work, no one told him the reasons. INE changed all of that.
This is where Warren Bacon comes in. As INE’s senior project manager, he is responsible for the development of supplier relationships with institutional purchasers — and everything that goes in between. Due diligence is just part of Bacon’s job. Coaching is another.
Bacon has a simple word for part of the process: “touches.” A touch is any time he makes a call, brainstorms with an institutional purchaser to make a deal work, or actually travels with a minority business owner to attend a meeting with a potential client. He said he has had as many as 60 “touches” with one client in a period of just a few business days.(p2)
INE's Web site provides more information about its efforts to help grow and develop minority-owned business in Boston and throughout the Commonwealth. More »
According to a 2005 study, a substantial majority of minority-owned businesses argue that the business of exclusion has not changed since the ugly days of Boston’s past and, in fact, has gotten worse. Those disparate views are now the problem of one Milton Benjamin. More »
"We tell our minority business owners that corporations are not going to do business with you [just] because you’re a minority — they will do business with you [if] you’re good and you can convince them that you’re good," said Dr. Fred McKinney, president and CEO of the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council. More »