Pop culture, politics and business

Posted: June 9th, 2017 | #LGBTB2B, Columns, Featured | 1 Comment

By Michelle Burkart | #LGBTB2B

Welcome to our new monthly column, #LGBTB2B, embracing the world of LGBT business-to-business (B2B) opportunities through the LGBT business enterprise (LGBTBE) initiatives.

And now that I have your attention, the full headline should be “Pop culture, politics and business: How LGBT equality, activism and opportunity have changed over the last 15 years of NGLCC.”

Our goal is to share with you insights into building a successful enterprise and provide the latest updates in the “LGBT supplier diversity initiative” movement, which was started in 2002 by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).

Michelle Burkart

We are all fortunate to be doing business in California, as the Golden State has always been a beacon of light, the trendsetter and ahead of the curve in LGBT supplier diversity opportunities.

The title of my column heralds a session title at the upcoming 2017 NGLCC Supplier Diversity Conference in Las Vegas this summer. It seemed appropriate, as I have personally experienced these changes, working hand-in-hand with the NGLCC since 2002.

Although my business career has taken me on a journey from Washington, D.C. to Germany, Silicon Valley, Atlanta, and finally, to San Diego, it was not until I came to America’s Finest City in 1999 that I truly immersed myself in the world of LGBT business equality.

I sold my Silicon Valley-based company in 1990 and worked for the new corporate owner as a regional vice president of sales. Then, in 1995, I came to San Diego, poised for an early retirement life of sailing and traveling. But the business bug bit again, and in 1998, I started TH!NKbusiness, an LGBT/woman-owned business-advising firm for small and midsize companies. The only certification available to me back then, however, was as a “woman-owned business.” Thanks to the NGLCC, today I can also add the LGBT business enterprise (LGBTBE) certification.

As an active member, board member and board chair of GSDBA for 15 years, I came to realize that the “economic empowerment” of our LGBT business community was critical to drive the political and cultural changes we all needed as a diverse minority population. I knew that there was power in numbers!

As a result, I began my alliance with the NGLCC, the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the LGBTBE supplier diversity initiatives in 2002.

It has been a long road forward. I remember my first NGLCC conference in Washington, D.C. in 2003, with 100 participants and just 10 corporate sponsors and three government agencies represented. By August 2016, participation at the annual conference had grown to 1,000 attendees, with 157 corporate strategic partners, 10 new government partnerships, a marketplace tradeshow, “Meet the Buyers” sessions and Melissa Etheridge as the entertainment.

I knew our LGBT businesses were finally on the road to being counted as a viable economic force.

Did you know that there are 1.4 million LGBT-owned businesses (ownership equaling 51 percent or more) in the U.S., with only 959 certified as LGBTBE?

Of those 959, 22 percent are located in California.

Our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender business owners are a vibrant and essential part of the small business economy that makes the U.S. economy run. We contribute about $8 billion dollars to the San Diego economy annually.

We deserve a place at the equality table, and as former Congressmember Barney Frank said, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu!”

Let me introduce you to some of the progress we have made over the years.

In November 2014, California legislature passed AB1678, which directed the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and its affiliates to have “mandated spend” amounts allocated to contracts with certified LGBTBE businesses.

In January 2015, the SBA partnered with NGLCC to promote the new Supplier Diversity Initiative. The SBA supports no fee consulting, training, capital infusion and resources to LGBTBE-certified businesses through the San Diego/Imperial Valley Small Business Development Center regional network (SDIV SBDC).

In 2016, the San Diego SBA office provided a booth at the San Diego Pride Festival for outreach, and in 2017, the SDIV SBDC network received a large grant to continue LGBTBE partnership program.

In the NGLCC’s report, “America’s LGBT Economy 2016 Snapshot,” the data shows that the average revenues for LGBTBE businesses are $2,475,642, which translates into a national estimate of annual earnings to be $1.15 billion.

Keep in mind that America’s estimated LGBT buying power is currently $1.5 trillion, contributed to by thousands of entrepreneurs and the millions of American households and families they serve. Again, the power is in the numbers. You can be a part of that power and increase your business revenues by becoming LGBTBE certified.

As one NGLCC certified owner said, “The certification creates visibility for LGBT business. Visibility creates awareness. Awareness leads to acceptance. And widespread acceptance ends discrimination. You can’t change hearts, minds and attitudes if you are invisible.”

So if you are an existing or startup business owner, don’t be on the menu, or leave your opportunities on the table — get certified and have a seat at the table!

Our next column will show you how to get certified and work that certification for success.

—Michelle Burkart is the SDIV SBDC network program coordinator for the LGBTBE certification program, and co-founder of the Diversity Supplier Alliance. She can be reached at For more information on the SDIV LGBTBE programs, visit

One Comments

  1. Joyce Marieb says:

    Great to see Michelle’s business column. Very good information from a seasoned business leader in the our community.

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