Resource department helps create opportunity for minority businesses

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After years of discriminatory business practices in Austin, the Small & Minority Business Resources department, known as SMBR, created programs to help city contracting opportunities for women and minority entrepreneurs become more accessible.

SMBR was founded by Austin City Council in 1987 to help less privileged community members start their own businesses, according to SMBR certification trainer Keisha Houston. 

“This is a program that was established to provide developmental opportunities and resources to small businesses,” Houston said. “It also exists to encourage women and minorities to get involved with business.” 

Bridget Thomas, who owns Bubblez and Sudz, a car wash in Austin, said she was able to land major contracts with Capitol Metro and others after being certified by SMBR.

“There are companies that are looking for minority business or women owned business contracts,” Thomas said. “I had resources with the City of Austin that I could go to … that’s how I found Capitol Metro.”

The resource department certifies that a business is owned and funded by mostly women and minorities. Once certified, the businesses are given opportunities for city contracting, according to SMBR certification trainer Deanna Brown.

According to Thomas, the relationships that are formed through the networking opportunities within SMBR have helped her business grow.

“You have to go out there, be in the public, meet with different organizations and you end up building those relationships with companies, as well as with the City of Austin,” Thomas said.  

When SMBR was founded, there was clear evidence of unfair discriminatory practices, which made running businesses difficult for women and minority entrepreneurs, according to Blender Hill, public information specialist for SMBR.

“Austin City Council determined there were disparities between women and minority-owned businesses on local contracts as a result of discriminatory practices,” Hill said.

According to Hill, SMBR actively tracks the number of city contracts held by women and minority business owners to avoid any future unfair discrimination practices.

Kristina Elder, finance student and president of the UT Women in Business Association, said she believes that there is still much improvement to be made for women in the world of business.

“It should not be the question of whether a man or a woman [or minority] should hold a position but on whether the personality and skill set of an individual person is the right fit,” Elder said.

According to the McCombs School of Business student profile, there are currently 1,931 women and 755 African-American, Hispanic and Native American students enrolled in the McCombs BBA program.