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Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurs will find that there are programs established by both the state and federal government that have been designed to assist them in obtaining government contracts and competing against their larger opponents in government business.  They will also find that the process of obtaining these certifications and using the benefits is so involved that it may cause them to ask, “Is it worth it?”

When I first found out about the California Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise certification, it sounded like an awesome benefit.  Businesses owned by Disabled Veterans would receive a 5 percent pricing preference in California state bids, giving them a competitive advantage.  Furthermore, California mandates that their purchasing agents award 3 percent of all contracts to DVBE businesses.  With this quota and the few number of DVBE’s out there, I assumed I would be able to take advantage of my status as a disabled vet to receive a windfall of contracts that state is holding just for me. 

Not so fast....

The process of first becoming certified as a DVBE was cumbersome.  We were required to gather and submit a packet of documents detailing my military service, my dad’s military service (he’s a minority owner in our company), corporate documents, tax returns, vendor lists, business plan, customer references, etc.  Once the packet was compiled and completed, we submitted it and waited.  The process took about six months for them to review it and approve it.  It was a slow, cumbersome job but there were no major problems. 

The federal certification, Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) was a different animal.  We compiled the bid packet, submitted it, and waited.  After about six months I received an email from “Vendor Information Pages” saying that I needed to sign form 0877 and had one week to do so.  At first I thought it was spam.  Then I realized it was legit, but couldn’t find my application on their website or figure out what I needed to do.  Before I knew it, they had deleted our application.  Sigh.

Our second attempt was more successful.  After 12 months of submitting documents, receiving and responding to requests for more documents, paying lawyers to adjust our shareholder agreement to clarify that the disabled vet (me) constitutes a quorum in a board of directors’ vote, and a host of other tasks, we received notification that we’re officially certified by the federal government as an SDVOSB.  The lesson we learned is that every document must be meticulously completed, and every requirement satisfied perfectly.  Whoever it is on the other end reviewing these packets has no problem simply rejecting months of work because you forgot to sign or initial in the proper space. 

OK, we’re certified.  Now what?

Contrary to my belief at the beginning of this process, we did not suddenly start having contracts thrown at us by our magnanimous government.  I did,  however, find resources that have become incredibly valuable in figuring out how to take advantage of these benefits, and am beginning to understand what needs to be done to benefit from this small, valuable niche. Free assistance

The California Department of General Services has an outreach liaison named Wayne Gross, and his sole job is to make sure business owners can find the answers they need.  He conducts half-day clinics for Disabled Veterans, helping them understand the benefits available and the process of getting certified, marketing to the state, and leveraging the available resources.  He has assisted me over the phone and email, walking me through the process step by step, and getting me in touch with the right people when I had questions he couldn’t answer.  Wayne is the place to start to get the lay of the land, is more than willing to help, and won’t charge you a thing.  Emailing him is a great first step: wayne.gross@dgs.ca.govSet up your public profile

Doing business with the state is a bit like using an online dating site (so I’ve been told … by friends who use online dating sites).  Regardless of how you got involved with them, the purchasing agency will likely go to www.BidSync.com and look up your company’s profile to determine whether you’re a certified small business, certified DVBE, minority owned business, etc.  Ensuring your profile is not only complete, but optimized with the proper keywords and industry codes is critical. It may make the difference between being included in an RFP and getting that first contract, or filtered out and destined to a life of loneliness.  Wayne Gross can help you with your profile as well.Understand the process

Most companies don’t realize the Department of General Services doesn’t have to put every contract or acquisition out for public bid.  If there is a contract valued under $250,000, they can use the “SB/DVBE” option (small business/disabled veteran owned enterprise option), which simply means finding and requesting quotes from a minimum of two small businesses or DVBE’s and awarding the contract to one of them.  The result of program is, 90 percent of the contracts in this price range don’t get posted publicly on BidSync, but get awarded directly to a small business or DVBE.  That means you need to make sure they know who you are and what you do. Use the advocates

The DGS has been kind enough to make the process of marketing to the state simple and painless.  They’ve established DVBE advocates: people in each department whose job it is to identify and advocate for us DVBE’s when a need to procure goods or services arises.  This list is maintained and published on the DGS’s website and is publically available, and the advocates are expecting DVBE’s to call for an introduction.  When done correctly, each DVBE advocate in each California state department will know who to contact when that respective product or service is coming up for a bid, and you’ll already have a foot in the door. 

While this process is simply scratching the surface of the involved and often confusing maze of bureaucracy surrounding marketing to our state government, it at least provides a foundation upon which one can build, and I hope will allow the reader to benefit from government business with a shorter ramp up time than I had.  My advice is to start now.  The best time to plant a tree, as they say, was 10 years ago, but the second best time is today. •••

David Scott is the second generation owner of The Scott Technology Group, Inc.; an office equipment dealership based in Sonoma County, CA.  During four years in the United States Marine Corps, he deployed three times to the middle-east including Operation Iraqi Freedom where he led his infantry unit in combat and received a Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a Combat “V”.  David received an honorable discharge and is a disabled veteran.  Besides running the family business, he is actively involved in New Hope Baptist Church, volunteers as a member of Santa Rosa Active 20-30 Club #50, and enjoys spending time with his wife and four children.