We recently posted a Challenge with the New York & New Jersey Minority Supplier Development Council (The Council) which seeks to identify innovative products and services that drive sustainability, create supply chain efficiencies, and benefit urban and rural communities and business owners. The Challenge offers Minority-Owned Business Enterprises and diverse organizations looking to highlight their innovation, build capacity, and develop supplier relationships with large publically traded corporations, as well as public sector agencies, an opportunity to gain local and national exposure and drive new business opportunities. We asked Kevin V.G. Wells, General Counsel and Director of Compliance for The Council, to chat with us about the Challenge.
Hi Kevin – we appreciate you taking the time to join us. Can you tell us more about The Council and its interest in promoting innovative products and services?
Absolutely. The Council has been proudly operating for close to 40 years. It links its minority supplier network, consisting of start-ups through companies with over $2 billion in revenue, to commercial contract opportunities. Our organization has three core functions: 1) Provide private-sector certification in New York and New Jersey for US entrepreneurs whose businesses are at least 51% Asian-American, African-American, Hispanic-American, Native-American or Pacific-Islander owned, operated, and controlled; 2) Facilitate contract opportunities for Council-certified suppliers with its Fortune 500 membership; and 3) Develop minority supply chains by cultivating innovation.
The Council focuses on minority supply chain development rather than minority business development. It channels diversity into the supply chains of its Fortune 500 corporate membership. These thrusts are geared toward businesses in the fields of science, technology, manufacturing, and environmental betterment. Today, if a diverse business does not address these areas, we strongly believe that it will fail.
How does this Challenge fit into your plans for your upcoming Sustainability Summit?
This Challenge is a vehicle to promote minority supply chain development and innovation within the emerging domestic market. It is also a funnel for all submitting Solvers to actively participate in our Sustainability Summit. Participants will have the opportunity to present their core competencies and to learn from the competencies of others.
So it sounds as though the monetary prize for this Challenge, a total of $10,000, is only part of the incentive for Solvers to participate. Is that right?
That is correct. The Sustainability Summit will not only laud four winners of the Challenge, but it will also provide 40 semi-finalists the opportunity to showcase their innovative products or services. As part of this Summit, The Council is promoting an Innovation Arena. Fortune 500 companies, global business entities, venture capitalists, government representatives, environmental thought leaders, and small/medium businesses will have the chance to vet these semi-finalists as resources for their respective needs. The Sustainability Summit will take place at the Sentry Center in New York City on October 9, 2012.
The Council’s mission is to facilitate contract opportunities for Minority-Owned Business Enterprises (MBEs), yet the Challenge is open to all companies. Can you tell us a bit more about that decision?
If diversity drives innovation, our challenge pool must represent the best and brightest. Within that pool of Solvers, businesses representing the emerging domestic market will be highlighted. The Council has always encouraged its certified suppliers to create strategic partnerships, and we believe that this Challenge will facilitate that opportunity.
You are seeking innovative and sustainable products and services that also bring benefits to urban and rural communities. Could you elaborate on the targeted community criteria, and also talk about US versus global markets?
There is no all-inclusive definition of a sustainable community. The distinction between urban and rural communities is necessary partly because each has its own characteristics that result in unique business opportunities and socio-economic constraints. The Challenge will aid in identifying those Solvers with innovative products and services that typically address the costs and benefits of utilizing their business alternatives. One beneficial aspect to a particular community is that each and every Solver will stimulate job creation. If that particular benefit can grow exponentially to have a national or even global impact, as well as enhance a particular brand, it will certainly meet the general Sustainability parameter of People, Planet and Productivity.
Importantly and uniquely, the US market understands the value of diversity in commerce, far more so than the global community. Particularly illustrative of this is the plethora of public and private certification initiatives. In this, The Council is a proven leader. Stateside, we understand that diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a positive choice that will inevitably affect the bottom line, especially as it relates to sustainability. This Challenge will change the notion of “no innovation here.”
Can you talk a bit more about your corporate members and what they’re looking for?
The Council has worked tirelessly to build membership of over 200 Fortune 500 corporations. They represent the leading brands in their respective industries. Our members realize that they cannot successfully pioneer innovation without opening up their R&D and supply chains to small and medium businesses. In keeping with this realization, several of our corporate members – Ernst & Young, Pfizer, ConEd, IBM, AIG, and others – are enthusiastically serving as part of the Challenge judging panel.
Why is it challenging for your corporate members to connect to available suppliers?
The issue is not the inability to find available suppliers. Rather, the objective is to seek proactive business innovation. All corporate members inherently know their respective business models. If innovation from suppliers is wanted, corporate members must drive it. Specifically, they must explain their corporate vision, list the challenges involved, and work with suppliers as strategic partners to execute the vision. It is much easier to achieve innovation through a diversity of smaller suppliers. This Challenge will uncover various innovative business solutions and enable our corporate members to adapt these solutions to their specific business models.
What prompted you to use a crowdsourcing approach, and to post your Challenge on the InnoCentive platform?
Over the past 4 years, The Council has been very active in presenting crowdfunding as an alternative financing avenue to its vendor base. The results have been quite impressive. Now, The Council wants to directly tackle the business concerns of both its corporate membership and large certified supplier base as it relates to augmenting an efficient supply chain. Our network represents so many industries with specific issues that the only way to effectively address all was through crowdsourcing. We’re very excited to launch this Challenge with InnoCentive, a highly respected company that has a proven track record of engaging innovative Solvers who impact the economy and social justice globally.
Is there anything else you’d like our Solvers to know about the Challenge and the opportunity it presents?
The Council was very happy to discover that InnoCentive does not typically utilize multimedia videos as part of Solvers’ submissions to Challenges. Therefore, our Challenge becomes one of the first that will allow Solvers to do so. Their video submissions will be posted on our Sustainability Summit website. More importantly, video participants need not win the Challenge to benefit. Displayed videos will highlight benchmarking in Sustainability practices and partnering, thus bringing additional exposure to Solvers.
Thank you very much Kevin. We’re confident that The Council’s Challenge and upcoming Sustainability Summit will be a stunning success!