HMSDC President and CEO Ingrid Robinson discusses 2021 lessons learned, 2022 outlook
Q: How would you describe 2021 versus 2020 for HMSDC and its MBEs?
A: 2021 was a transition year for HMSDC. We quickly realized in 2020 that the needs of our MBEs and corporate members had changed due to the global pandemic. As issues related to social injustice increased, climate change hit Houston —the BIG FREEZE —and business slowed.
Supply-chain opportunities were limited to critical business functions, and corporations and government agencies began to rethink how to address both issues simultaneously. As an organization, we knew we needed to redesign our business model to ensure we were adding value to both of our major constituencies and that we play the role of solutions provider.
HMSDC focused on meeting the needs of corporate and government buyers through MBE development. We designed programs that would best prepare MBEs for recovery post-COVID-19. We surveyed and worked with our public-and private-sector stakeholders including CPOs [chief procurement officers] from some of Houston’s leading Fortune 500 companies to understand the business opportunities and supplier requirements they would be looking for in new suppliers or expanding business with existing ones. We wanted to ensure we helped MBEs be forward-looking and prepared.
Oprah Winfrey once said: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” In 2021, we engaged in getting MBEs prepared for upcoming opportunities. So, they wouldn’t need luck; they needed business deals!
For MBEs, the  economy improved slightly, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the marketplace. Just as most businesses, MBEs are making very conservative financial business decisions because of fears of additional contracting of business markets due to COVID-19.
Many wanted to believe that COVID-19 was behind us when we received an effective vaccine. In reality, the surges from variants and a lack of consistent business guidance at various levels of government have made it difficult to hire and establish uniform business practices.
There is some good news! MBEs are optimistic about the future and are eager to grow and leverage changes they’ve made in their business models to reduce costs, leverage technology to connect with customers and rethink their service delivery models to address the growing demands for ethical companies with clear policies and emphasis on environmental, social and corporate governance.
MBEs are branching into new markets.
They are keenly focused on customer retention and incremental growth with existing customers. By homing in on their customers’ needs and increasing overall customer satisfaction, many have stabilized their businesses. We’ve seen more teaming among MBEs which is a strong sign of capacity-building.
Q: What were the Council’s major accomplishments in 2021?
A: HMSDC provided MBEs:
Access to capital
• Awarded over $60,000 in MBE Business Executive Scholarships.
• Assisted MBEs in gaining grants from San Jacinto College for training.
• Received Founders First CDC Texas Job Creators Grants for MBEs.
• Advocated for and assisted MBEs in accessing Harris County Small Business Relief Fund grants.
• Assisted MBEs in accessing the Fort Bend County Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program.
Connect to business opportunities
• Shared over 5,000 bid opportunities with members.
• Reported over $69 million in local corporate spend with HMSDC-certified MBEs.
• Reported 200% increase in reported MBE-to-MBE spend between HMSDC-certified MBEs.
• Launched new development program Pathways to Excellence.
• Redesigned MBE development program MBE Leadership Academy.
• Hosted CEO Conversations program featuring CEOs and senior executives from: HEB, Motiva Enterprises, Mayor’s Office -City of Houston, Greater Houston Partnership, IBM, Ethos Energy, Shell Oil and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
• Hosted Learn-Educate-And-Develop (L.E.A.D.) Conversations live webinars with business and industry leaders on relevant topics to business growth.
• Provided over $8,000 in recertification assistance to minority-owned businesses impacted by COVID-19.
• Increased the number of certified MBEs by 16% in 2021.Advocacy
• Engaged in legislative efforts to increase knowledge and advocate for the need to sustain State of Texas Historically Underutilized Business Program.
• Educated and screened candidates for local and municipal elected office.
• Testified and advocated for minority business goals because of disparity study findings from Harris County, Port [of] Houston [Authority] and METRO [Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County].
• Provided input into MBE self-performing standards for City of Houston contracts.
Q: What were the biggest challenges faced by your MBEs this year, and how did the Council help them meet these?
A: The biggest challenge our MBEs have had is access to new business opportunities. HMSDC has been recruiting new corporations to the Council to introduce new opportunities and new industry partners to our MBEs. We’ve focused on making meaningful connections between MBEs and corporate buyers using a virtual platform to connect MBEs to specific opportunities, as well general introductions.
But, by far, the focus has been on real opportunities with corporations committed to making a real difference.
Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunities for MBEs in 2022?
A: Economic data indicates that the biggest opportunities will be in these areas:
• Transportation and logistics distribution.
• Life sciences.
• Digital analytics.
• Maintenance, repair and operations.
• Telemedicine: human and veterinary.
Government investments will also create opportunities through the federal infrastructure investment and the Build Back Better investment should the latter bill pass in the U.S. Senate. Those funds will flow through local and municipal governments and companies that will create opportunities across industries and professions.
Q: What are the Council’s major goals for 2022?
A: Most importantly, [a major goal] is to increase revenue to our MBEs by:
• Providing access to real and meaningful business opportunities.
• Connecting MBEs to public-and private-sector decision-makers.
• Developing MBEs to ensure we provide well-rounded, qualified and certified MBEs to corporate members.
• Assisting corporate members with developing world-class, supplier-diversity programs that incorporate diverse suppliers into the procurement process. By achieving full integration in the process, we can realize substantial growth in opportunities for MBEs.
Q: What is your outlook for MBEs for 2022?
A: My outlook for MBEs in 2022 is a slow-but-steady transition and recovery. MBEs are now looking forward to taking the best of what they’ve learned and instituted through the digital transformation of business in 2021 and leveraging it to become a competitive advantage in 2022.
MBEs will be customer-centric, technologically improved, agile businesses with the expertise to position themselves as value-added suppliers.
I am hopeful that opportunities will arise as companies continue efforts to address their social responsibilities and impact, as well as their bottom lines. As consumers and communities become more concerned with social responsibility of companies, supplier diversity will play an even more important role in corporate ESG [environmental, social and governance] plans.
Q: What’s your vision for the future of minority business development and supplier diversity?
A: The future for minority business development is bright. We must tell the story of MBEs and continue to show the value minority-owned businesses bring to corporate supply chains. We are committed to sharing the cascading impact the businesses have on improving the lives of others and the vitality of communities of color.
I am looking forward to the day in which MBEs are only limited by their imaginations —not their lack of access to capital.
To learn more about HMSDC, visit hmsdc.org.