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Northeastern University preps minority- and women-owned businesses for contracts

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Northeastern University preps minority- and women-owned businesses for contracts
Local business owners listen Jan. 15 during an information session for a capacity-building program offered by Northeastern University and Next Street. NU’s new master plan includes economic development in neighboring communities. (Photo: Sandra Larson)

Northeastern University is launching a new initiative to help local and minority-owned and women-owned businesses build their capacity to win contracts from Northeastern and other large institutions.

The university is partnering with Next Street, a Roxbury-based merchant bank specializing in small and mid-sized urban companies, to deliver an intensive three-part workshop on strategic and financial planning, marketing and business development. In addition, the workshop will cover NU’s procurement system and help business owners position themselves to compete for contracts.

Business ‘Boot Camp’

The program, described as a “business boot camp,” is aimed at minority- and women-owned enterprises in operation for three years or more in industries such as food and dining services, moving, construction, cleaning, trades and repairs, printing and copying, vehicle servicing and furniture. Companies with Boston zip codes are preferred, with three or more employees and revenues of at least $500,000 and ideally $1.5 million.

Besides training, the capacity building workshop will allow business owners to meet procurement representatives, ask questions and pitch their products and services.

A diverse group of area business owners attended a recent information session on the NU campus. They listened to a presentation and panel discussion about the program, the application process and how NU procurement works.

The panel discussion featured NU senior buyers and also Donna Williams, whose firm Roxbury Technology has been selling its remanufactured toner cartridges to the university for several years.

Williams advised would-be vendors to have all their certifications (minority, female-owned, state-level, city-level) in place, as well as a marketing plan and organizational chart. But the most important thing is to have the right product or service, she said — a product that Northeastern University wants to buy.

“We have a very successful relationship [with NU],” she said. “We meet, we troubleshoot if there are problems to work out. Nothing is perfect — if you have a roadblock, don’t get discouraged.”

Afterward, the 50 or so attendees had a chance to mingle and introduce themselves to NU and Next Street representatives.

Mabel Alvarez, an employee of Hicks Auto Body, said the Dorchester minority-owned firm has contracts with other universities now and will be applying to the capacity building program with the aim of securing work with NU. Leonardi Aray hopes his Cambridge architectural firm will have an opportunity to work with NU on renovation, construction and office relocations. Audrey O’Hagan, too, hopes her minority and woman-owned architecture firm can gain NU as a client.

The capacity building program workshop series will run in late March and early April, with 12 to 18 participants selected from a pool of online applications. Eligibility and priority will be based on a set of minimum requirements for the firms as well as a desired mix of business types and Northeastern’s upcoming contract needs.

The application is available online now and will be accepted until Feb. 16.

Part of a Master Plan

Former City Councilor John Tobin, NU’s vice president of city and community relations, introduced the information session. He said the capacity building initiative stemmed from the university’s Institutional Master Plan, hammered out over a three-year period with input from community representatives. The outcome was a plan —approved by the city in December 2013 — that Tobin said benefits the surrounding neighborhoods as well as NU.

The plan calls for community benefits such as millions of dollars in improvements to Carter Playground on Columbus Ave., and economic development efforts for residents and businesses around the university’s urban campus.

“We know that some small businesses have for a long time been shut out of the process,” Tobin said. “Our goal with this initiative is to bring you into the process.”

He praised the efforts of a 16-member community task force and elected officials, particularly the late Mayor Tom Menino and City Councilor Tito Jackson, in shepherding the master plan process to completion.

Jackson, present at the meeting, spoke positively of the new initiative and what it represents.

“This is part of a much-needed conversation on how we increase the number of and scale of business owned by people of color and women in the city of Boston,” he told the Banner, “and how anchor institutions can help local businesses.”

For More Information

To access the NU Capacity Building Program application, see… .

Questions can be directed to Aliza Sir,, 617-318-6535, or Mike McNamara,, 617-373-5883.

Former state Rep. Dianne Wilkerson, who was involved with an often-contentious earlier NU master plan process years back, also was in attendance. She said she is glad to see long-sought steps finally being taken.

“I’m optimistic,” she said after the session. “I’m smiling, because they’re saying what we’ve been pushing them to do for a long time.”

Ernest E. Washington, Jr.’s company, Vanguard Parking and General Services Corporation, has been contracting with NU for 27 years. He has 70 employees from local neighborhoods doing work at NU now, he said, but is still interested in the capacity-building opportunity in order to increase revenue.

“Northeastern has been very good in developing minority businesses and supporting hiring from the neighborhoods,” Washington said. This event gives me a good feeling that they’re going to continue those efforts.”

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