Akron Aims To Launch Mentor-Protégé Program For Small Businesses



Akron, Ohio, December 30, 2021 —The City of Akron has been one of 30 cities across the nation taking part in the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ City Budgeting for Equity and Recovery (CBER) program, beginning in July of this year. The program was designed to help cities develop and implement plans to drive financial recovery and ensure that their budget crises do not disproportionately harm low-income residents and communities of color. Throughout the program, Akron has been focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the City’s procurement practices by identifying challenges for vendors and City staff, as well as mapping out a clearer procurement process.

"The goal of taking part in the CBER program is to help increase access to opportunity and eliminate some of the institutional barriers that previously existed in our procurement processes," said Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan. "We aim to advance equity deliberately and systematically, because equity is central to Akron's efficiency, growth, and cohesion. We will continue to put it at the forefront of our decision making processes."

As part of the program, Akron's finance team has received guidance from experts at Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab. That guidance has led to updates to the City’s procurement software and templates. Akron's new vendor management portal now allows for better access to all sealed bid opportunities by posting them directly to the City’s system for viewing. It also allows vendors to receive timely updates on available opportunities and for all sealed bids to be received electronically. These efforts will not only save the City of Akron time and money, but will also create a more equitable process, expanding opportunities for small minority-owned and woman-owned business enterprises (SMBWE) on projects ranging from snow removal to marketing to technology contracts.

To see a list of open public opportunities, you can view the vendor management portal here.

“Being equitable in our spending, requires an understanding of the communities in which we live, work and conduct business,” said Akron’s Contract Compliance and Supplier Diversity Officer, Sheena Fain. “We believe that by being inclusive in our supply chains, we are on the cutting edge of helping create and shape small diverse businesses.”

The City is now focusing on increasing direct support to vendors navigating the procurement process and employing strategies to increase SMWBE vendor participation on city contracts. Strategies include:

  • Designing a mentor-protégé SMWBE capacity-building program to pair emerging firms with experienced prime contractors that will provide a combination of structured education with on-the-job training. In addition, participating SMWBE firms (protégés) will have access to a world-class curriculum spanning business management, sales and marketing, construction law, and other core competencies.

  • Piloting a new rotational on-call contract model for select procurements by prequalifying small and diverse businesses to take on small, ad-hoc City jobs as they become available without going through new procurement each time.

  • Developing and maximizing a long-term strategy for sustaining internal inclusiveness to drive more equitable outcomes for SMWBEs, such as continued internal racial equity and inclusion training.

With the support of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ CBER program, the City of Akron retained HR&A Advisors, Inc., an economic development and public policy consulting firm, to support the mentor-protégé program design and implementation strategy. On behalf of the City of Akron, HR&A completed a landscape and case study analysis of peer mentor-protégé programs around the United States to create a report on best practices and personalized recommendations for setting up a similar program in Akron. HR&A then collaborated with the City to curate a high-level curriculum that draws upon the resources and expertise of diverse public and private sector partners.

The resulting curriculum, which is still in final development, will span areas such as marketing, business development, and contracting; construction and trade skill-building; construction law and contracts; accounting and financial planning; and business administration and management.

The City aims to launch the mentor-protégé program in the second half of 2022. More details about the program and how to apply will be announced at a later date.

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