Meet Founders Who Certified Their Businesses

How women- and minority-owned business certification helped boost revenue at three companies

Jeanette Prenger Ecco Select Kansas City, Mo.

Certified by the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council and Women's Business Enterprise National CouncilMember, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

In 1995, when she launched Ecco Select, a human resources consulting firm, Jeanette Prenger didn't want to be a Latina entrepreneur, or a minority entrepreneur, or a woman entrepreneur. She just wanted to run her business. "I believe your success has to stand on your credibility and your ability to deliver," she says. "I didn't think that any of the certifications for minority or women business owners were valuable for me."

Then in 2000, when Prenger acquired another company, she joined the local Hispanic chamber of commerce to get access to its mentoring and educational programming. The chamber encouraged her to get certified with the NMSDC and WBENC. Those certifications gave her preferred status when clients were looking to prune their vendor lists. And when Sprint mandated that Ernst & Young use minority- and women-owned subcontractors during a major audit, Ecco was chosen from Sprint's preferred vendor list of certified businesses. Ecco's 12-year relationship with Sprint has led to some $10 million in deals and has helped Ecco grow into the $10 million, 100-employee business it is today. Says Prenger: "If it had not been for me being on that preferred list, I would have lost millions."

Darcy Ann Flanders Baseline Design New York

Certified by the Women's Business Enterprise National CouncilMember, Women Presidents' Organization

Darcy Ann Flanders coasted through her first 10 years as an entrepreneur. Baseline Design, the graphic design firm she co-founded in 1997, worked primarily for financial-services clients. "All of our work came from networking within our existing circle," says Flanders, president of the six-employee firm, which consistently brought in more than

$1 million in sales. "Leads kept coming to us. I was riding high for a long time." Or at least until 2008. Says Flanders: "Last year everything came to a screeching halt, and it's been extremely humbling."

But in 2004, Flanders had joined her local WPO chapter. The women she met there urged her to cultivate a more diversified client base. The company developed a small business division, received certification from WBENC, and began networking aggressively. Today, about a third of Flanders' clients come from contacts she has made at WPO or WBENC events. Says Flanders: "If we didn't make those changes, I'd probably be working out of my basement." And 2009 revenues, though down by about half, nonetheless represent a triumph for Flanders: "We are still in business."

Arron Fulbright Configuration Chicago Chicago

Certified by the National Minority Supplier Diversity CouncilMember, Alliance of Business Leaders & Entrepreneurs

Within a few years of its 2003 launch, Configuration Chicago, a facilities management and office furniture company, was ringing up $750,000 in sales every year. But then it stopped growing.

So Arron Fulbright, the owner, decided to start capitalizing on his NMSDC certification. Although he had been certified for several years, "I never really took full advantage of the resources and networking opportunities," he says. That quickly changed. At a local diversity council trade fair in 2006, he met a representative of U.S. Bank. That meeting led to a deal to carpet all of the bank's offices in Chicago, or some $500,000 in business over three years. In 2007, Fulbright secured a subcontractor position supplying furniture to Exelon, which had committed to 40% minority participation when renovating its Chicago headquarters. The contract was close to $750,000. That same year, Fulbright was nominated to ABLE, an invitation-only group of black entrepreneurs in Chicago that connects business owners with decision makers at major corporations. "The certification is a huge marketing tool," says Fulbright, whose company has grown to four employees and $2.5 million in revenue. "It helps to get you to the gatekeepers within an organization. I would encourage firms to get every certification they can. It can only help you. It can't hurt you."

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