Experts provide inside information how to get your share of the billions of dollars available in municipal contracts around the country, using New York City’s Department of Education as a template.
The New York City Department of Education (NYC DoE) is the largest system of public schools in the United States, serving some 1.1 million students in over 1,700 schools. It has an annual operating budget that’s in the $25 billion range, covering everything from textbooks and fuel oil to security services and pollution remediation. At any given time, there are literally hundreds of contracts open to the market for potential bids—some tiny, some gigantic, and many in between. Each one of them offers chances to immigrant entrepreneurs to build or expand their business.
So what can they do to crack this market? How can they start offering goods and services to the NYC DoE?
To find out, we interviewed David Ross, Executive Director for the Division of Contracts and Purchasing (which oversees $7 billion of the overall budget), and Odelia Levy, Senior Associate Counsel/Associate Director for Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Management. While the sheer scale of the network can be daunting, the two system veterans stressed that the system is open and transparent in granting contracts, and is currently supplied by a huge range of vendors large and small.
At any given time, there are literally hundreds of contracts open to the market for potential bids—some tiny, some gigantic, and many in between.
Ross and Levy laid out some specific steps to bidding for contracts successfully with the New York schools system.
Register Your Business
The very first step is to register your company at the NYC DoE Vendor Portal. It’s free, and the only way to be added to the agency’s bidder’s list. Every name on the list will receive e-mail notifications of new solicitations as they become available. Prospective vendors should be both careful and comprehensive in identifying the goods and services they offer, but equally important, they should make sure their e-mail address is accurate, and up-to-date.
“You’ll be surprised how many bounce-backs we get from our e-mails,” Mr. Ross noted. “Some companies obviously didn’t make it or have moved on, but with others it’s because they got a new e-mail address and didn’t bother making the change on our portal. As a result, they don’t get to hear about new opportunities.”
Attend Monthly Seminars and Build Your Network
Next, be aware that the agency conducts monthly seminars titled “How to Do Business with the NYC Department of Education.” They’re held in every borough and they’re an excellent way to not only to hear about existing and upcoming opportunities but also to become more familiar with the agency’s policies and procedures.
There are other advantages as well, specifically networking. “Many of our vendors don’t have the capabilities—the scale of offerings, the financial backing needed—to meet all of the requirements spelled out in a given contract,” Mr. Ross pointed out. “By attending these seminars, prospective vendors can meet others in their situation and combine their offerings to bid for a contract that would otherwise be outside their scope.”
“By attending [our] seminars, prospective vendors can meet others in their situation and combine their offerings to bid for a contract that would otherwise be outside their scope.”
In addition, these seminars also give applicants an opportunity to ask for revisions to the requirements spelled out in each contract. “We live in the real world, and we understand that changes are sometimes necessary,” Mr. Ross said. During the early stages in particular, the agency does its best to accommodate prospective vendors who request changes in the wording in order to meet eligibility requirements without affecting the basic nature of the nature of the contract.
Once new bid possibilities have been made public, vendor applicants have the chance to learn more, and to stay in touch, via the NYC DoE Vendor Hotline at (718) 935-2300 or through VendorHotline@schools.nyc.gov. This represents a single point of contact for current and prospective vendors, and a live representative is available Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It’s the ideal through which to ask questions and get more information.
Opportunities for Minority and Women-Owned Businesses
Another potential entry point is the system is for qualified applicants to become certified as Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) by New York City or the State of New York. “Certification is not required to do business with the agency, but we encourage companies to seek this status if they’re eligible,” said Ms. Levy, who helps oversee the program. These programs are not an afterthought, but a very large segment of the system. The city’s official website notes that since 2007, city-certified MWBEs have been awarded more than 26,000 prime contracts and sub-contracts worth close to $2 billion.
Creating Partnerships to Pursue Larger Opportunities
Finally, it’s important to remember that while many contracts have a massive scope, they represent the sum of multiple requirements, and therefore offer numerous opportunities to identify and pursue subcontracts. Even after a general contract has been awarded, vendors who believe they may be qualified to win a piece of the bid are encouraged to make enquiries through the Vendor Hotline. They can get the name and contact information of the prime contractor in a specific solicitation, and approach that company directly to ask about subcontracting opportunities.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the size and scope of the NYV DoE supply system. By any measure, it’s not just big but the biggest in the country—more schools, more students, more administrators and more supplies needed than any other. The important thing to remember is that no matter how small your business might be today, you can make it grow through doing business with New York City. All you have to do is follow the steps below.
SIX STEP Guide
- Register your company at the NYC DoE Vendor Portal—it’s the best way to learn of new contract opportunities as they become available.
- Attend the monthly seminars titled “How to Do Business with the NYC Department of Education.”
- Identify joint opportunities with other vendors. Many contracts that may seem outside your company’s capabilities will come within reach once you team up with other companies to develop a combined offering.
- Speak up: The NYC DoE is open to hearing about possible revisions in a given contract if it will enable more vendors to get in the mix and deliver greater value
- If you have questions, reach out to the NYC DoE Vendor Hotline at (718) 935-2300 or through VendorHotline@schools.nyc.gov.
- If qualified, apply for as certification as a Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) in New York City or the state of New York.