UBX Links Minority Firms Buyers

June 25, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The founder and president of Urban Business Exchange (UBX), Allen Cones, realized the vision that would become his company’s mission while helping to develop business for a firm owned by his brother, Norman.

“I went to every roundtable, chamber function, and networking group in town trying to find business opportunities,” Cones explained. “We figured that there has to be a better way to find business out there.”

Cones knew that his brother’s 13-year-old full-service janitorial company TMG Maintenance — as an established Minority-Owned Business Enterprise (MBE) — would be very attractive to a company that was looking to expand the diversity of its supplier base. He said the problem wasn’t in convincing companies that they should use TMG and other minority-, women- and disadvantaged-owned business enterprises, but in connecting those enterprises with the appropriate buyers.

So Cones used his e-business background from the University of Phoenix to develop the Urban Business Exchange (UBX), a service designed to facilitate relationships between a diverse suppliers and corporations, educational institutions and municipalities.

“This is a tool to help, first of all, these procurement organizations identify a diverse supplier base,” Cones explained. “And also to help small, disadvantaged-, women- and minority-owned businesses identify new business opportunities.”

Using its Web site as a hub, UBX is helping to identify qualified, certified MBEs for procurement entities. Before the site’s official launch in May, Cones was searching out MBEs for his clients.

With the service up and running in January, Cones quickly landed large accounts at Kellogg Co. and the city of Grand Rapids.

“It has been a great resource for us in addition to our internal database,” Kellogg Supplier Diversity Coordinator Nina Jackson said. “We’ve had multiple companies that we’ve followed up with, and it’s really been a benefit to us.”

One of the suppliers UBX introduced to Kellogg was a soybean company  out of Michigan State University with a new process using the bean’s husk.

“That was a pretty interesting find for him,” Jackson said. “That has been one of the hardest areas for us to find diversity suppliers in. Of all the organizations we belong to, there are not a lot of places that will help you on a project basis — where I say I have this need and he goes out and finds it.

“They are all good at finding common things like engineers, chemical supplies and consultants, but (UBX) has been able to supply specialty needs, ingredients especially, and that has been very beneficial.”

Cones says UBX intends to save both buyers’ and suppliers’ time by streamlining procurement. Real-time posts of requests for proposals (RFP) and an e-mail bid notification system allow UBX to make sure that its member suppliers don’t miss opportunities. 

“As a small business, we wear multiple hats,” Cones explained.

“Typically we are the salespeople, the accountants, we create the products and so forth. A lot of companies are creating supplier diversity programs, but as a small business you don’t have time to go to all these different Web sites and register with all these different organizations and view their opportunities,” he said.

“What UBX does is aggregate all that content into one central hub.”

While UBX strives to make sure diverse suppliers can take advantage of new opportunities, Cones said UBX also takes the legwork out of due diligence for the procurement companies.

Already displaying pertinent data such as three years of sales, number of employees, core competencies and certifications, UBX soon hopes to offer a supplier performance rating system as well as a possible supplier electronic catalog that will allow buyers pricing and purchase information through the UbxNet.com site.

Cones says his service also provides marketing for public and private supplier diversity programs, with the ability to link to another site or power another site, and broker services for the deals it facilitates.

He said the city is currently expanding its Economic Opportunity Plan (EOP).

In the past, the city’s supplier diversity efforts had been targeted toward the construction industry. Now, with this year’s implementation of the EOP, it will strive to include a wider variety of suppliers of goods and services as well as professional services.

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