SBA programs bridging small businesses to contracting opportunities

Release Date: 
Thursday, September 6, 2018
Release Number: 
PGH18-24
Advisory Date: 
Thursday, September 6, 2018
Advisory Number: 
PGH18-24
Contact: 
Janet Heyl

Henni O’Brien often decorates her office wall with pictures of commissioned pieces. One of her favorites:  a covered bridge painted in classic, deep-red hues. Looking at it, O’Brien remembers hanging off the sides of the bridges, brush in hand, completing the work.

Creating those picture-perfect memories actually was part of a bridge restoration contract, bid on and won by O’Brien. “I even fixed the roofs,” she said laughing. I loved what I created so much I have a picture in my office.”

Growing up and working alongside a family of drywall finishers, it was no surprise when O’Brien hung up her own shingle nine-years ago as the sole employee of her own company, Green World Contracting Corp. “I chose the name because I’m always striving to keep our world green, “she adds. “At first, I did everything myself, the accounting, bidding; even painting those bridges.”

It was on-the-job, when O’Brien began learning about my agency, the SBA [U.S. Small Business Administration] and our contracting programs; prompting her to contact us for certification assistance. “Since I’m the owner and of Hispanic descent, I qualified for the Women-Owned Small Business [WOSB] and minority certifications,” she explained.

My agency not only assists all entrepreneurs in starting and growing their businesses, we help increase their revenues and cash flow through contracting opportunities. Believe it or not, the federal government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world – everything from staples to snow removal services. Chances are if you’re selling then we’re buying.

Contracting, while lucrative, also is intricate with its own set of rules and language; it’s peppered with acronyms like SAM, DUNS and NAICS. To convey information in a clear, concise manner, my team creates numerous outreach events reaching small business owners a few miles to a few hundred miles away from our office.

“We’re striving to make contracting understandable in a variety of ways,” SBA Business Opportunity Specialist Marisa Fentzel says. “Each month, at our office, I conduct a hands-on federal contracting workshop discussing our programs, 8(a), WOSB and HUBZone [Historically Underutilized Business Zone] and their eligibility requirements. I’ll also take that class on the road for any Western Pennsylvania community interested in learning more about SBA.”

Realizing the round-the-clock workload associated with small business ownership, my team brainstormed to formulate a user-friendly and time-sensitive online curriculum covering federal contracting basics online. “Each month, we select a topic and an expert panel will chat about it for 15 minutes,” Fentzel explains. “The following month we’ll host an in-depth webinar on the same subject, helping hundreds of business owners each year.”

As for O’Brien, her business portrait is rosy. She now employs a small team to complete the numerous federal contracts awarded to her. “SBA’s staff and programs are wonderful,” she echoes. “They’re there every step of the way in government contracting and it’s really helping my business grow.”