The challenges and successes of being certified

Posted: January 5th, 2018 | #LGBTB2B, Columns, Featured | No Comments

By Michelle Burkart

Happy New Year and welcome to 2018 where the challenge of LGBT economic opportunities continues.

For example, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which added LGBTBE certified businesses to its diversity supplier vendors list in November 2014, is still challenged with the question of how much total contract award percentage should be assigned to our community.

I recently asked one of the trustees with its board of governors why this is.

“We are just not sure how ‘economically disadvantaged’ the LGBT community is,” she replied.

Local business owners, including Marci Bair (far right), join Michelle Burkart (second from right) at a 2017 LGBT business mixer for Diversity Alliance. (Facebook)

Seriously? The LGBTBE business community is inclusive of every disadvantaged minority community (i.e. women owned, Hispanic owned, African-American owned), so what is the question?

By the end of 2017, I had assisted 14 LGBT businesses to get certified and provided over 178 hours of consulting and training time to help them be more successful. These entrepreneurs took the initiative to be counted, visible, and expand their opportunities.

This year, I will be sharing LGBTBE certification stories from around the country on the successes and challenges of those who have become certified. For this column, I have interviewed four certified companies in California — which have a range of certification experience, from eight years to three months — Audrey de Lucia, co-founder of Ellaprint, in San Francisco; Milo Shapiro, owner of IMPROVentures; Joe Maak, CEO of Pride Resource Partners LLC; and Marci Bair CFP, Founder, Bair Financial Planning. The last three are all San Diego businesses.

As I worked with the various companies through the certification process, or talked with others currently certified, I found three questions arose consistently; I asked each of the four business owners above those questions.

Why did you become LGBT certified?

(Audrey de Lucia | ADL) Our company is focused on environmental concerns and supporting local LGBT issues, so it seemed like a perfect balance to make the “choice to be counted,” to be a part of a larger advocacy group, and building relationships. We wanted a voice in the economic community.
(Milo Shapiro | MS) My hope was that it would open doors for further business opportunities for my trainings.
(Joe Maak | JM) My aerospace job had ended with the closing of the company I worked for as a facilities manager. I wanted my own business, so I started it in 2014 when the CPUC LGBT certification started. I was the first LGBT business to be certified by CPUC as I saw the opportunities and visibility a certification could provide to me.
(Marci Bair | MB) With my involvement in the Corporate Social Responsibility movement, I felt it was important to be counted, not only as a women-owned but also as LGBT-owned, because it reflects the values of my company with regards to diversity.

What challenges did you encounter?

(ADL) As we moved into working with the larger corporate arena, cash flow has been the biggest challenge. Larger companies are used to paying out 90 days, and when we win a $40,000 contract, we cannot afford to wait that long. So, any other issue like building relationships, or producing the work is not so hard … but cash flow … yes hard.
(MS) I found the opportunities are there. However, to get to those that exist, I would say the lack of uniformity in the administration and sign-up processes among different corporate or agency entities can be time consuming. Also, the technical aspect of individual registration for each company portal can be frustrating in order to be counted in their supplier database. So, one needs to keep track of renewal dates for your certifications and how that will affect each portal sign up.
(JM) I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time. When I got certified with the CPUC, companies were looking for LGBT-certified businesses and I was the only one at that time. So, within a short time, I got my first contract and my business grew exponentially from there.
(MB) Two things were a challenge for me: a) clearing my schedule to get the documents in order and then actually register; and b) understanding the process better and the differences in the certifications. Luckily, I had Michelle’s help and encouragement.

What advice do you have for others?

Michelle Burkart

(ADL) If you want to be counted as part of a larger voice, then this is a no-brainer to me, to get involved with the LGBT certification. It helps our community on so many more levels than just the business one, but it does take work.
(MS) If you are already a member of an LGBT chamber, why not take advantage of the fee waiver? The annual NGLCC conference supports more networking and education on how to best work your certification as well.
(JM) With the CPUC affiliates in California there are great trainings, mentoring and support that an LGBT-certified business has access to through the various affiliate supplier diversity departments. Sempra Energy spends 43 percent of its $9.3 billion budget with diversity-owned businesses, and in 2016 it spent $36.6 million with LGBT-certified businesses.
(MB) My advice is threefold: a) understand the benefits and process; b) work with an advisor to understand how your business can execute the certification; and c) make the time to incorporate it into your company values.

— Michelle Burkart is the principal at Diversity Supplier Alliance. Questions? Reach her at For more information on LGBTBE certification visit

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