3 Ways to Engage More Small Businesses Through Procurement

Sascha Haselmayer
Oct 30, 2019 · 3 min read

At Citymart, we know that cities are often struggling to work with more diverse small businesses and startups. Done successfully, cities can reap the benefits of meaningful innovation, new finance models, local development, a more diverse vendor base, and learn to work with partners who are deeply invested in solving city needs.

Procurement today is suffering from an aging vendor base: Just 1% of local businesses will be registered as a vendor to your city and too often we end up contracting tired past champions instead of extending opportunities to small businesses, MWBE or start-ups with smart new ideas.

Over the past ten years we have run public procurements in cities covering categories such as health, education, social care, transport, energy, lighting, inclusion or economic opportunity. Many of these procurements delivered transformative outcomes that were possible because 89% of the winners were small businesses, with exceptionally high participation rates of MWBE and start-ups.

Here are three examples that provide practical inspiration and help us raise our expectations on what good should look like in engaging small business.

1. Think ‘Recruitment’ when doing Procurement.

More and more cities are changing their procurement mindset away from being defensive, to making opportunities attractive and recruit the full talent and diversity in our communities. How can we make a contract opportunity attractive to 99% of businesses not registered as vendors today? Dublin did just that for their RFP to find solutions to reduce the congestion and pollution from online retail deliveries. Instead of simply relying on the known vendors, the city created an easy to understand and attractive RFP and used to engage 520 vendors in the worlds of technology, logistics and urban delivery to consider bidding.

Along the way the Dublin partnered with Belfast to aggregate demand and is today running contracts with six small businesses to co-create the solutions to a pressing urban challenge. Read more about Dublin’s story.

2. Lower risks: Try before you buy.

Long Beach turned to Citymart to develop a Request for Solutions to procure the furniture for its new Harvey Milk Park. This was to be more than a traditional park, in that the city hoped to provide the furniture that would allow people to use the park as a co-working space, providing WiFi and other resources.

Many of the innovators in outdoor furniture were small businesses and before committing to a preferred vendor, the city invited the eight most promising vendors to install their furniture in the park to have residents vote on what worked best for them. Smaller vendors had a chance to prove that their products worked as well as bring the user voice into the evaluation panel. Harvey Milk Park will open in 2019. Read more about how Long Beach prototyped a park.

3. Discover new ideas through a Call for Innovations.

In 2015, New York’s Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation embarked on a project to test a new approach to procurement. Using Citymart’s tools, the City created a Call for Innovations as an open solicitation of ideas and proposals with the aim of finding innovative technology solutions to various challenges facing New Yorkers.

The city sought to bypass traditional procurement in order to engage more creative and diverse types of technologies that may not have otherwise worked with the city through a traditional RFI or RFP. Using BidSpark to power the Calls for Innovations, the city found diverse startups and teams with solutions ranging from smart air conditioners for public housing to data models analyzing student populations. Read more about what Citymart did with New York in this Success Story.

Want to learn how Citymart can help you recruit small businesses to your contracts? Try BidSpark today — it takes just a click.

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