The Atlanta MBDA Business and Advanced Manufacturing Centers help minority-owned enterprises succeed

Connections Make the Difference

Jamie Knodel

Like most matchmakers, the team that leads the Atlanta MBDA Business and Advanced Manufacturing Centers (Atlanta MBDA Centers) can’t help but boast about the introductions it has made that have led to long-lasting and fruitful relationships.

There’s the work that Ochoa Construction, LLC and Cronos Contractors, LLC will be doing to complete the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design (the Living Building) on Georgia Tech’s campus. And the vendors, including SquarePac and DoverStaffing, who secured contracts to help make Super Bowl LIII a success at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Or Archie Deese, owner of The Paint Doctor, who initially had a small contract job that developed into a lasting relationship and work for Turner Construction Company.

In fact, millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs have come as a direct result of the Centers’ role in teaming minority specialty trade contractors with general contractors, facility management firms and builders.

The Atlanta MBDA Centers’ aim is to help minority business enterprises (MBEs) access capital, increase profitability, create jobs and become sustainable.

“MBEs often have difficulty securing opportunities because their access to building relationships is very limited,” says Donna Ennis, C.P.F., Project Director of the Atlanta MBDA Business and Advanced Manufacturing Centers.

But building relationships is what Ennis and the MBDA Centers do. “We are a connections group,” she says. “We connect our companies to virtually every resource they need to grow.”

Access to Expertise

For MBEs, a relationship with the Atlanta MBDA Centers means access to a nationwide community of experts and individuals engaged in technology, innovation, leading-edge business practices and investing capital.

While the MBDA Centers will help assess MBEs—analyzing the financial and operational health of a company to identify strengths, weaknesses and needs—they also provide access to capital, markets and strategy work.

National Network of Support

Since it started 15 years ago, the Atlanta MBDA Business Center has supported companies by securing working capital, bonds, equity investments and debt financing, including Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. Another core function has been to help boost a firm’s market share by identifying new markets, expanding the customer base, responding to requests for proposals and assisting with certification applications. The center also works to improve and implement a company’s organization and process through training and systems application.

The Atlanta MBDA Business Center belongs to a national network of more than 40 centers that advocate for the MBE community; however, its affiliation with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute makes it unique. “Being operated by a major institution of higher education gives us access to even more resources and expertise,” Ennis says.

Established in 2004, the Atlanta MBDA Business Center currently receives funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), the state of Georgia through Georgia Tech, corporations and client fees. The federal agency awarded a five-year grant to the Atlanta-based organization in 2016, which provides funding through 2021. This grant provides $298,255 annually, for a total of $1.49 million.

Bridging the Gap

While it provides many of the same services and access as the Business Center, the Atlanta MBDA Advanced Manufacturing Center caters to manufacturers and others directly connected to it, including logistics hubs and warehouses.

Launched in 2016, this institution bridges the gap between large corporate supply chains and MBE manufacturers by providing expertise and access to a national network of resources, partners and stakeholders. The staff provides a variety of services with the primary goal to increase business opportunities and the profitability of their clients.

Ennis and her team say that between the MBDA Business and Manufacturing Centers, they serve more than 200 clients each year. They’ve assisted countless others, but the focus is on established companies that generate more than 
$1 million in annual revenue and have been around for at least three years. The MBDA Centers are not designed to help launch a new business; rather, their purpose is to “help scale a company,” Ennis says.

That happens through strategic relationship building, which yields educational and mentoring opportunities for business owners and their teams. The MBDA Centers have partnered with The Blue Book Network, and that relationship has proven to be a major resource for the network. What’s more, the MBDA Centers in Atlanta are recognized for the assistance, expertise and resources that help create and retain work for MBEs.

A Solid START

A year ago, Ennis and her team launched START to Build. (The acronym START stands for Specialty Trades Aiming at the Right Targets.) This program identifies MBE subcontractors in specialty trades, such as electrical, roofing, HVAC, siding and more, and connects them with general contractors, developers and other firms.

“Not only is it our flagship program, but to our knowledge, it’s the only program of its kind, so it’s very special,” says Lauren Roberts, Program Specialist for the Atlanta MBDA Centers.

The general contractors come with a list of projects and needs, and they leave with the names of the MBDA Centers’ clients who are ready to bid for the work and begin developing a relationship. “The GCs aren’t just getting the names of specialty contractors, they’re getting companies that have been vetted and who can be counted on,” Ennis says. “Lots of people do matchmaking, but we do it at a different level.”

Ennis and her team are continually building out the program’s list of specialty contractors and construction divisions and are actively seeking to serve more MBEs. START to Build has already yielded more than $9 million in contracts, and Ennis is looking for ways to build on that success.

Vision for Growth

The staff at the Atlanta MBDA Business and Advanced Manufacturing Centers hope to accomplish the same things they push their clients to achieve: growth and long-lasting relationships. As these organizations work to expand throughout the southeast, Ennis’ vision is to serve even more MBEs and continue building a program that people look to first when seeking contractors for projects of any scale or size.

“We have all kinds of clients, and they inspire us and help us stay passionate about this mission,” she says. “To help a company create jobs is truly rewarding.”