People always seem impressed when I tell them I’m a certified disability-owned business enterprise. Because abledbody is owned by me, and I’m profoundly deaf, and have satisfied the requirements of being a legitimate business owner, the U.S. Business Leadership Network gave me certification back in 2010. I have to reapply for it every year, and let me tell you, it’s worth it.
When I first applied there were two major reasons to get certified, and now, there’s a third. First, being a DOBE means you can add your company into a USBLN-member’s supply chain system, which is how large companies source for goods and services. USBLN’s members are mostly large corporations like Southwest Airlines, WellPoint, Merck, Marriott and more. They convene every October at the USBLN’s annual conference, which will be held at the Renaissance Orlando at Sea World by Marriott this year for workshops and sessions around disability inclusion in Corporate America. I encourage employers to check it out.
Many USBLN members and other Fortune 500s are working to diversify their supply chains with minority- and women-owned businesses as well as disability-owned business. This doesn’t mean you are a shoo-in. You compete on a level with other suppliers in their system, but if there’s a good fit you’ll have an advantage over businesses that are not in a specially designated group. The founding partners of the program, officially known as the USBLN Disability Supplier Diversity Program, include the companies mentioned above, plus IBM, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Sun Trust, Sodexo, Qualcomm, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and Walmart.
The DOBE supply-chain system has yet to work for me. I am a services company, supplying communications, marketing, editorial and public relations services to companies that want to reach the disability community. Generally, marketing services are procured through open-market bids with agencies, who compete through a rigorous proposal process. But if you’re say, a wholesale fruit distributor who is DOBE-certified, you’ll be well-positioned to sell apples to hotels, hospitality companies, food suppliers and more.
The second reason to achieve DOBE certification is reputation. Telling people I am a disability-owned business sets the story up for me to reveal how my personal and professional passions (and experience) come together. People are intrigued by the prospects of a program that helps entrepreneurs with disabilities get ahead. I can put the DOBE logo on my website and marketing materials; I’m quite proud to be a DOBE, as are, I’m sure, the 40 other certified DOBE businesses.
The third reason, which could mean a sea change for disabled business owners, is recent talks in Washington about adding DOBEs to the Small Business Administration’s list of individual and prime contractors that are required to be awarded a percentage of federal contracts. (As an example, it’s 5% for women-owned businesses). For larger DOBEs that can fulfill such work, the opportunity is priceless.
Nothing has happened yet, but keep your eye out as the USBLN is working with Senator Harkin and others on helping more disabled business owners. If you’re interested in DOBE certification, you can find out more on their website or read their brochure. I will be attending the conference this year (courtesy of Southwest Airlines) and look forward to working with fellow DOBEs to strengthen the program for future entrepreneurs (and maybe even see a dolphin show).