Recently opened startups and small businesses got a leg up at HCDE’s first-ever Internal Procurement Annual Supplier Showcase (iPASS), a new event that brought together area vendors with school district procurement experts for a day of networking and professional development on September 30.
“I think it’s important to have small business participation,” said Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Jesus Amezcua. “In fact, it’s a federal requirement for HCDE and school districts to reach out to small and minority-owned businesses that can provide services.”
While HCDE’s national purchasing cooperative, Choice Partners, offers contracts with vendors who provide everything from crayons to construction services for school districts, universities, government organizations, counties, and municipalities, HCDE Plus focuses on vendors who provide services like guest speakers, professional development, and general consultants such as trainers and curriculum writers for school districts and HCDE divisions only. Contracts for these types of services are generally harder to find in large cooperatives.
HCDE Plus handles the vetting of these service-based vendors and passes this advantage on, via interlocal agreements, to school districts in the form of competitively procured, pre-approved vendor contracts.
“We’re expanding HCDE Plus,” said Amezcua. “We hope to host iPASS annually to recruit more businesses that can participate in the cooperative and provide more options for our school districts so they can address their district’s needs and complement the services they provide to their community.”
One of the benefits of being an approved vendor is the opportunity to participate in HCDE Plus’s supplier showcase, iPASS, an in-person forum to meet co-op members.
For Shaughn Thomas, whose company, Invest in Yourself LLC, recently became one of HCDE Plus’s more than 50 vendors, the desire to join the cooperative is rooted in the exposure and opportunities it offers.
As a former middle school math teacher whose company offers financial literacy programs for students and adults, he has been growing his business for six years. In March, Shaughn decided to focus on his business full-time.
“It was hard leaving my students, but I also wanted to grow my company,” he said. “I tried to do both at the same time, but I had to make a choice.”
With his livelihood tied to the success of his business, Shaughn acknowledged that joining HCDE Plus gave him peace of mind.
“It’s definitely a load off because everything is on you as an entrepreneur. You try to find different ways to network and help grow your business because your network determines your net worth,” he said. “I saw that there was an RFP open, so I applied. I was fortunate and was able to become a vendor.”
Shaughn says he is already reaping the rewards.
“I just became a vendor, so this is my first event. But today has been awesome. I’ve met with a couple of people, and I have some meetings set for next week,” he said. “I would say things are looking very promising, so I’m excited that I came.”
More than 100 members and 25 suppliers attended the daylong supplier showcase. Amezcua and legal experts led participants in sessions about federal procurement laws and legal compliance.
“It’s the type of professional development that is needed in all areas of school business—not just for purchasing employees, but also for teachers, administrators in budgeting or finance, and anyone who has to deal with money, grants, and Title I funds,” said Sheronda Thomas, a budget analyst for the Houston Independent School District. “I like that the speakers help you understand that you could end up in an orange jumpsuit if you don’t consult the right people.”
For district representatives like her, HCDE Plus and iPASS make public purchasing easier.
“I think it’s a great event. Being in education for 29 years, I haven’t seen one quite like this,” said Sheronda. “Here are all the vendors that HCDE has already done the research to bring in. HCDE has already looked at them and said, ‘These are the people that we recommend.’ Now we can see whether their services match what our district needs, what our students need, and what our community is requesting.”
To learn more about HCDE Plus, contact Assistant Director of Procurement Services Edna Johnson at 713-696-2104 or email@example.com.