11:35 AM December 9, 2014
Entrepreneurs, Policy Makers Discuss What's Working and Share Advice
The Atlantic's 2014 Small Business Forum
By Martin Feeney
From within the ultra modern, concrete-exposed confines of Washington's 1776, a startup incubator, The Atlantic Magazine hosted its annual Small Business Forum. Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) kicked off the morning's session with a bang. The recently passed defense authorization bill included sole source authority for the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Procurement Program. This is a major victory for all women business owners and is something we've been advocating for many years. According to Rep. Chu, other changes for small businesses included in the defense bill are limitations on reverse auctions, changes to subcontracting, and review of contract bundling.
When the new Congress convenes in January, Rep. Chu shared her plans to introduce a bill to restart the refinance section under the SBA's 504 commercial real-estate loan program. It allowed small businesses to cut costs by refinance existing commercial property loans at today's low interest rates, but it expired in 2012. We look forward to working with her next year to make this a reality.
Many of the morning's panelists, including SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, the National Journal's Fawn Johnson, 1776 Co-Founder Evan Burfield, and the founders of two of DC's favorite establishments, Ben's Chili Bowl's Nazim Ali and Port City Brewing Company's Bill Butcher, all agreed that access to capital remains the major obstacle for startups. Port City's Bill Butcher recalled his attempts to get a loan to start Washington's first brewery since prohibition. Despite success in the winemaking industry and having his personal finances in order, he heard the all-too-familiar refrain from the first ten banks he tried: "sorry, we only lend to businesses that are at least 24 months old." His advice: "keep trying," he said, "and learn from your failures and mistakes." Luckily for beer lovers, Port City was able to obtain an SBA loan with some business counseling.
With respect to what the government is doing, the SBA's Maria Contreras-Sweet highlighted initiatives specifically designed for small businesses. On lending, she noted that the SBA waived fees on 7(a) loans below $150,000 last year and has committed to continuing through September 2015. According to her, this has resulted in increased loans to the smallest businesses, including those run by women and minorities. To boost the number of microloans (loans up to $50,000), the SBA plans to enter into an agreement with credit unions, which will increase the program's reach into more communities across the country.
On technology and how the SBA is innovating, Administrator Contreras-Sweet also announced SBA One. The online platform will automate the application and approval process for almost all SBA loans. She likened the idea to what TurboTax did for filing taxes by making the entire process online and automated. No more paperwork or headaches? Sounds like a great idea me. SBA One is expected to launch in the second quarter of 2015.
From the private sector's perspective, Bank of America's chief small business lender, Robb Hilson, shared a couple of statistics about generational approaches to entrepreneurship. Not surprisingly, millennials are the most confident when it comes to taking the leap and starting a business. But they're also the most dependent on technology, with 44% saying they wouldn't be able to survive without a smartphone. Surprisingly, on the other end of the spectrum, encore entrepreneurs (those aged 50+), often considered the luddites of the entrepreneurial world, is in fact the age group most likely to do so following the millennial generation.
At the end of each panel, each participant was asked for the one piece of advice each would give an aspiring entrepreneur. I think Ben's Mr. Ali framed it perfectly: "know your community, know your neighbors, and know what they want." He credited this advice, passed down from his father who founded Ben's Chili Bowl almost 60 years ago, with the famed restaurant's continued success. They've been able to succeed in their community because they're a part of it and know their needs and desires.
So here's my piece of advice: If you're ever in Washington and
haven't already, make sure to support these local
by grabbing a Ben's Half-Smoke and a pint of Port City's IPA. You won't regret
All told, the forum offered a wide range of perspectives, including experiences, lessons learned, opportunities, and thoughts on the state of small business in general. I encourage you to watch the webcast if you haven't had the chance to do so yet.
2:39 PM December 3, 2014
We Did It
By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Government Relations
WIPP Works In Washington
It was against all odds that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a vitally important improvement to the WOSB procurement program - sole source authority. Yes, you read it right - the WOSB program will now have parity with every other small business procurement program.
The law wasn't written that way back in the year 2000, but through WIPP's persistence for 14 years, we finally have a program that is sustainable. First, of course, we had to get the program put into place. If you recall, SBA delayed implementation for 11 years. Then we went about changing the underlying law that was flawed. First, we advocated for the removal of the dollar caps on the program--the original law limited contracts under this program to $5 million, rendering the program largely ineffective. Since the caps on awards through this program were removed, the program has tripled in size.
But, in our view, removing the dollar caps was not enough to make this program work. The original law only permits contracts to be set-aside for women owned companies if the business is owned and controlled by women and two or more women owned companies will submit offers. Meanwhile, every other small business procurement program allows contracts up to $4 million (or $6.5 million in the case of manufacturing) to be directly awarded to one firm. That is a critical tool used by the federal government to award contracts to minorities, veterans and HUBZone firms to access the federal market.
Now that I have explained the long road toward making the WOSB procurement program work, we have a few things left to do. First, agencies (in this case the SBA) have to promulgate rules to implement the law passed by Congress. The SBA did this for the removal of dollar caps in six months, which is lightening speed for an agency. Second, the FAR Council, which oversees contracting rules, has to approve the changes. That takes additional time. Third, all the contracting officers and small business offices in the government need to understand the change and start using it.
It is a long process, but not as long as we have been working on making this program successful. And we certainly did not do this alone. To thank everyone that deserves thanks would require pages but here are some special shout-outs. If you ever responded to a WIPP Call to Action or ever wrote a letter to your elected officials on the WOSB program--THANK YOU, you made a difference. To the fifteen organizations that supported WIPP on this effort--THANK YOU. If you attended the hearing during WIPP's annual leadership conference, you played a big part--THANK YOU. Special thanks go to those on Capitol Hill who shepherded this program through the Congressional system- Senators Cantwell, Shaheen, Landrieu and Representatives Speier and Graves. The staffs of the Senate and House Small Business Committee were instrumental in this success. The SBA Administrators Mills and Contreras-Sweet made the success of this program a top priority and we will never forget their contribution. Speaking of staff members, the dedicated SBA employees on the Government Contracting team and in the General Counsel's office deserve our gratitude. The WIPP team and WIPP's board members have been solidly behind these successes devoting endless hours on these issues, ensuring that Congress heard directly from business leaders. Lastly I am really proud of my team's efforts. As I am sure you are aware, there has been very few votes in this Congress this year--this effort was particularly difficult and fraught with many twists and turns.
But in the end--WE WON--WOMEN BUSINESS OWNERS WON. Now, for the first time in history, let's make sure the federal government meets its goal of 5% with women owned firms.
12:48 PM November 24, 2014
New Report from the White House Council on Women and Girls
This month the White House released a report on the status of women and girls of color in the United States. The report, compiled by the White House Council on Women and Girls, covers everything from education to criminal and juvenile justice, and is an important step in assessing the policies that have had a positive impact, as well as areas that could be improved.
According to the report, women of color have made great economic gains over the last 5 years, including increasingly choosing careers in entrepreneurship. Black women-owned business increased by 258 percent from 1997-2013, while Hispanic women-owned businesses increased by 180 percent, Asian American women-owned businesses by 156 percent and American Indian/Alaska Native women-owned businesses increased by 108 percent. As the rate of women entrepreneurship has risen, so has the number of small business loans made to women. From fiscal year 2013-2014, the SBA has increased the number of 7(a) loans made to women in all areas, including Black, Hispanic, AAPI and American Indian/Alaska Native women.
In addition to the increasing number of SBA loans made to women of color, we have also seen more government programs focused on providing women with the tools they need to make their businesses successful. Nearly one third of businesses in the SBA 8(a) Business Development Program are women-owned, while the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program has increased the number of federal contracting dollars going to women-owned small businesses by 7.5 percent between 2012 and 2013.
Despite these gains, women of color still have many barriers facing their economic success. High rates of unemployment, unequal pay, and under-representation in management positions affect all women, but have a larger impact on women of color. As President Obama noted, women of color "struggle ever day with biases that perpetuate oppressive standards for how they're supposed to look and how they're supposed to act. Too often they're either left under the hard light of scrutiny, or cloaked in a kind of invisibility". In order to combat these challenges, it's necessary to look at both race and gender as barriers to success, and to understand the complexity that occurs when they intersect.
3:00 PM November 21, 2014
FAR 101: SEALED BIDDING OR CONTRACTING BY NEGOTIATION
By Maria L. Panichelli and Jennifer M. Horn
Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman, P.C.
Whether you a contractor working on federal, state or private projects, certain construction practices should be followed to insure that you and your company is protected on the project. Following certain business practices can mean the difference between a profitable construction project and one that exposes your company to financial risk. This Webinar will focus on best construction practices before, during and at the conclusion of a construction project. It seeks to outline best contracting, accounting, insurance, documentation and claims prevention strategies for beginner and experienced practitioners alike.
Give Me 5: Best Practices in Construction
Jennifer Horn, Partner, Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC
Maria Panichelli, Associate, Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC
Wednesday, December3, 2014 * 2:00 eastern / 1:00 central / 11:00 pacific
The fiercest competitors in the federal contracting world know that, if you want to win a contract, it is imperative to fully understand all of the terms of the Solicitation. To that end, it is critically important that you understand the type of procurement you are participating in, and the process by which you will be judged against other contractors. Although it might not seem like it, familiarity with the procurement process can make all the difference between award and disappointment.
As those of you who attended our webinar already know, in the federal procurement world, there are two primary contracting methods. The first, sealed bidding, is governed by Section 14 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation ("FAR"). The second, contracting by negotiation, is governed by Section 15 of the FAR. Those sections lay out the distinct procedures required under each type of procurement.
There are some key differences that you should be aware of before you bid. First: vocabulary. (Nothing announces inexperience like an inability to use the correct jargon!) In a Sealed Bidding context, the government issues a solicitation known as an "Invitation to Bid" or "IFB" and the contractors, or "bidders," submit their responsive "bids." In comparison, when the procurement proceeds under FAR Section 15, the solicitation is referred to as a "Request for Proposals" or "RFP" and the contractors, or "offerors," submit their "proposals." It is not just the terminology that is different, the procurement process under these two methods differs, too.
In sealed bidding, the award is made on the basis of price alone; the lowest "responsible" and "responsive" bidder will win the contract. A bidder is considered "responsible" if it has demonstrated the capability to successfully perform the project (i.e. the contractor actually possesses the equipment, labor, resources and experience necessary to complete the contract). A "responsive bidder" means a person who has submitted a bid that conforms in all material respects to the IFB. In other words, be sure that you supply all of the information required, and that you do not get creative or try to "spin" your answers. Conversely, do not provide extra, unsolicited information. That type of bid will be deemed non- responsive. Make sure you comply with all the requirements and specifications to be considered "responsive." Only the responsive, responsible bidders will even be considered. Of those, the lowest price bid wins, period.
In contracting by negotiation, the process is a little different. Price is not the only factor; rather, price is weighed against other "evaluation factors" selected by the agency. It is then determined which bidder, on balance, presents the "best value" to the government. (Common evaluation factors include: Management Organization; Proposed Technical Approach; Past Performance; Key Personnel Qualifications; Past Experience with Similar Types of Projects; Proposed Schedule; Technical Expertise; and Small Business Subcontracting Plans.) Upon submission of proposals, the government has two choices. First, the contracting officer ("CO") can choose to simply award the contract to the offeror who it believes presents the "best value". In the alternative, the CO can select certain offerors to be in the "competitive range" and conduct "discussions" with those offerors alone. Those discussions will identify weaknesses in the proposals, and may include persuasion, alteration of assumptions and positions, give-and-take. The negotiations may apply to price, schedule, technical requirements, type of contract, or other terms of a proposed contract. Following the conclusion of these discussions, the offerors are asked to submit their final proposal revision. The CO decides, based on those final proposals, which offeror constitutes the "best value." The contract is then awarded to that contractor.
It is important to understand these differences so that you can tailor your bid, or proposal, accordingly. For instance, if you are responding to an IFB, getting your price the lowest it can possibly be is likely the most important thing you can do (assuming you are responsive and responsible). The trick, of course, is to figure out a way to be the low bidder at a price that still enables you to make a profit. In contrast, when submitting a proposal in response to an RFP, you would be wise to carefully study the terms of the solicitation, and see what other evaluation factors the government is considering. Moreover, you should determine the weight of each of these factors. Maybe price and technical experience together are weighted the same as past performance. Maybe past performance, key personnel and proposed technical solution, collectively, are given equal weight as price. After you ascertain what the government views as the most important, you should shape your proposal to address the evaluation factors in order of importance. In these ways, you can use your understanding of the procurement process to build a better proposal, and ultimately obtain more contract awards.
Now that you realize the importance of understanding the federal procurement process, you must be dying to learn more about it, right? Lucky for you, you came to the right place! Get yourself up to speed on solicitations and bid/proposals using our previous Give Me 5% webinar on the FAR Fundamentals: Bidding 101, and keep an eye out on the GM5 website for the upcoming webinars in our series, including a webinar on the next step in the procurement process, Source Selection and Award. In the meantime, if you have any questions, contact a legal professional.
10:36 AM October 31, 2014
The Affordable Care Act is working to deliver affordability, access, and quality to millions of Americans across the country.
Looking for health insurance that fits your needs and your budget? Look no further than the Health Insurance Marketplace. All plans in the Marketplace cover essential health benefits, pre-existing conditions, recommended preventive care and more. Open enrollment begins November 15. Enroll by December 15, 2014 for coverage that starts January 1, 2015. To find the latest, most accurate, information about the Marketplace visit HealthCare.gov.
If you have health coverage through the Marketplace, it's time to review your plan and decide if you need to make changes for 2015. Every fall, your health insurance company sends you a letter explaining changes to premiums and benefits for the coming year. You can choose to stay in your current plan (as long as it's still offered) or make changes. If you don't take action by December 15, 2014, you could miss out on better deals and cost savings.
It's easy to renew. There are 5 steps to stay covered:
1. Review: Plans change, people change. Every year insurance companies can make changes to premiums, cost sharing or benefits and services they provide. Review your plan's 2015 coverage to make sure it still meets your needs and you're getting the best plan for you.
2. Update: Starting November 15, visit HealthCare.gov and log into your Marketplace account. Answer a few questions to get to your 2015 application - it will be pre-filled with your latest information from 2014. Step through each page of your application and make changes if you need to. This is important - even if none of your information has changed, you might be eligible for lower costs than last year! You also can call the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 to review or make updates over the phone.
3. Compare: Log into your Marketplace account and follow the "Enroll To Do List" on HealthCare.gov to compare 2015 plan costs and benefits. New and more affordable plans may be available in your area this year. If you decide to stay in your current plan, follow the directions to search by that plan's 14-digit ID - you can find the ID on the letter from your plan. Or, call the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 for help.
4. Choose: Choose a health plan for 2015. You can keep the same plan (as long as it's still offered) or select a new one that better fits your needs. If you want to stay enrolled in your 2014 plan, use the plan ID in the letter you get from your health plan.
5. Enroll: The Marketplace open enrolment period begins on November 15. Make sure to review, update, compare and choose by December 15 to have any changes take effect on January 1. Stay covered for 2015! Contact your plan to confirm your enrollment. Make sure to pay your premium.
If you don't finish all of the steps by December 15, we'll try to enroll you automatically so you stay covered. But this coverage might not be your best option for 2015 and you could miss out on cost savings.
If you have questions or need to find someone who can help you in person, we can help. Find local help at: Localhelp.healthcare.gov/
Or call the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596. TTY users should call 1-855- 889-4325. The call is free.