Second Annual iPASS Procurement Showcase Fosters Learning, Future Collaboration

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September 21, 2023 by HCDE Communications

Small business owners and young entrepreneurs attended Harris County Department of Education’s second annual Internal Procurement Annual Supplier Showcase (iPASS) on September 15, an event bringing area vendors together with school district procurement experts for networking and professional development.

“Everyone here is cultivating partnerships and learning to run a business on separate levels. I always want to remain a student of the game, so I’m grateful for this opportunity,” said Sebastian Sanders, an iPASS sponsor and owner of The Sanders Hand, a small business that provides at-risk youth with financial education.

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Participants, such as Sanders, were invited to sessions led by industry experts about procuring goods and services for their businesses using local and federal funds. The event is an opportunity for small business owners to gain the exposure and resources needed to grow their businesses while discussing specific topics like grant writing and leveraging public/private partnerships.

This year’s iPASS featured speakers included representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the City of Houston Office of Business Opportunity (OBO), and the University of Houston APEX Accelerator, a business advising and training center.

Select companies were also introduced to HCDE Business Plus, an initiative that identifies small business vendors who provide services such as guest speakers, professional development, and general consultants. Through this service, HCDE offers a way for districts to take advantage of these types of contracts, which can be challenging for districts to find on large purchasing cooperatives like HCDE’s Choice Partners.

“Small businesses often face challenges getting vendor contracts because they compete with more established companies,” said Dr. Jesus Amezcua, HCDE assistant superintendent of business services. “HCDE Business Plus helps level the playing field for young entrepreneurs to be successful and grow their businesses.”

Amezcua also highlighted how attendees can partner with HCDE, local school districts, and charter schools to streamline procurement processes. He noted that iPASS gives small businesses a wealth of information in just one day.

“Businesses typically have to attend several conferences to get the knowledge that HCDE provides in one day of instruction,” Amezcua said. “With iPASS, it’s a two-fold win: HCDE meets federal requirements to promote and recruit merchants, and small businesses receive the necessary resources to become vendors.”

More than 130 people and 75 small businesses attended the daylong supplier showcase, which was also live-streamed to the School Finance Council (SFC), comprised of school district finance officers from around the state. 

“Running a business is a marathon, not a sprint. You must be committed to the business and your customers to continue learning about finance, client engagement, and maintaining vendor contracts,” said Sanders. “Partnerships that will help my company bring more resources to students are now in the works because of iPASS. I’m excited to be around like-minded individuals who want to change our community for the better.”  

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