Thought Leadership

Procurement for an Inclusive Economy | Darrell Byers, CEO of Interise

Three trillion dollars. That’s a sum that demands attention. That’s how much money will be coming to cities and towns across America through the combined Infrastructure, Climate and ARPA bills. 

Not to mention the $1 trillion plus in corporation and institutional supplier contracting. 

Interise calls this the PROCUREMENT ECONOMY – because it is – it is a huge economic opportunity for our country. 

My name is Darrell Byers and I’m the CEO of Interise, a non-profit organization that’s working to make sure every entrepreneur in America gets an opportunity to bid on the contracts that will be funded with this once-in-a-generation infusion of money.  

Because I believe that by extending opportunities to minority-owned, women-owned, BIPOC-owned, Hispanic-owned, Asian-owned small businesses, we will ultimately close wealth gaps and create a more equitable, inclusive economy. 

Here are some numbers for you:

  • 75% less. That’s the wealth gap between white and black and brown households. And that gap is widening. 
  • $3-5 trillion dollars. That’s how much our economy can expect to grow if we solve for this disparity, simply by making sure minority-owned businesses get the same opportunities as white-owned businesses. If that seems unlikely, consider this: 
  • 45% growth. That’s what happens when minority-owned companies successfully secure a long-term contract, whether directly from the government, or as a subcontractor for a larger business. 
Let me break it down for you. 

Procurement is one of the most important and powerful tools we have at our disposal and this is a historic moment to address the systemic problem of racial and gender wealth disparity in American cities.  

In 2021, Congress passed American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The purpose of these bills is to provide relief to address the impact of COVID on communities and to fund repairs and upgrades to: 

  • transportation projects like bridges and road repair 
  • utility projects like water, electrical grids and broadband internet.  

There’s also money to update HVAC systems in schools, to create more EV charging stations and to clean up legacy pollution in brownfields and Superfund sites. 

These two bills comprise a total spending of more than $3 trillion.

As Philip Gaskin of the Kauffman Foundation has written, “Entrepreneurship is key to inclusively rebuilding American infrastructure.” But, given the historic difficulty that women and BIPOC businesspeople have had in securing small business loans, “half of our nation’s potential entrepreneurs are sitting on the sidelines.”  

How do we boost minority-owned and women-owned small businesses?  

Interise is a Boston-based nonprofit that offers business education to MWBEs nationwide at low- or no-cost to the business owners, through partnerships with municipal governments, chambers of commerce or other nonprofits.  

Our research arm has determined that the number one factor for sustainable growth for any small business is securing long-term public or private contracts.

When a small business has a client with an allocated budget over multiple years, the entrepreneur is more likely to hire employees and invest in their business. 

After taking our StreetWise MBA program, MWBEs grow their revenues on average 12% and create new jobs at about a 4% growth; however, MWBEs who also secure new contracts grow on average 2-3 times higher realizing revenue growth numbers of 28-45%.  

The accelerator is what we call the contracting factor, or procurement empowerment.  

Recently, we developed a Minority Supplier Capacity Building program to help the public and private sectors use this important moment to create sustainable programs to create, scale and grow minority businesses. 

Some federal contracts may go directly to MWBEs, but we’re also encouraging anchor businesses—local corporations, universities, hospitals, municipal governments—to use MWBEs as contractors.

Right now, we are working with numerous anchor institutions and cities helping them to create and embed this program that will ultimately lead to a more equitable and inclusive economy.  To name a few – Interise is working with Honeywell, the Off-Share Wind Industry, the state of Virginia and the cities of Houston, Charlotte, Louisville and Mobile. 

If you want to support MWBEs and anchor enterprises in your city, Interise is ready to partner with you to facilitate opportunities. 

To be clear: Our goal is not to boost the profits of individual companies. We are taking an intentional, scalable approach in order to create systemic change in your local economy. 

For example, late last year, the local minor league ballpark in Worcester, MA was fined $1.9M for not following the rules set in place around hiring MWBEs as subcontractors.

Well, our partnerships with the Urban League of Springfield and the Urban League Eastern Massachusetts will offer ten programs in both English and Spanish this year, and ensure that there are certified, contract-ready MWBEs available for hire across the state.  

With the programs we’re putting into place, there will soon be no excuses for not finding appropriate MWBE subcontractors. 

But there is more to do, and the time to act is now. The time to act is always now. Because, as I said, we’re here to change the system, and that’s going to take more than a minute.  

From ARPA alone, about $65B is earmarked for American cities (guidelines from GFOA) – and while there are only six months left to allocate these funds – it is a huge opportunity not to be missed. 

Working together we have the chance to direct these funds in a way that provides the most bang for our tax dollars, that rights some historic economic wrongs, and that brings us a step closer to a nation where all men—and women—have an equal shot at the American Dream.