For small business owners, certification can seem daunting and bring up many questions: Is certification right for my business? What is the process like? What are the real-life benefits of having a certification from the SBA or a third-party certifier like WBENC or soon-to-be NAWBO?
To help answer many of those questions, we sat down with NAWBO Philadelphia member Ana Fernandez-Parmet. Her technology solutions company, Parmetech Inc., is certified as a woman-owned and minority-owned business, and she sat on NAWBO’s certification panel at last year’s National Women’s Business Conference.
Read on for Ana’s insights into certification, what her experience was like and why it may be right for your business!
Q: Tell us about your business and what inspired you to start it?
A: My husband and I co-founded Parmetech, Inc. in January of 1991. Our first born was 2 months old. Before I got pregnant, I was working as the Inside Sales Coordinator for an export management company and my husband was a computer programmer for a financial institution. He was laid off when I was 4 months pregnant. I had told my boss when I announced my pregnancy that I was going to stay home with my baby for at least the first year because I did not want to put my baby in daycare. My husband did some consulting for a few months, but we decided that we should try to do our own thing and started selling remanufactured toner cartridges for a local manufacturer. We did not have any customer lists and came up with our own lists based on companies in the phone book. We eventually started selling HP products and printers as well. We had our second child when our son was 19 months old. I would deliver the products with my babies in a double-stroller. I would go to the manufacturing plant with the babies in our minivan. We have evolved into a full-service office equipment technology company and our two oldest (the babies who were very much a part of the early years of our business) now work in our business and are taking it to the next level.
Q: When did you first begin looking into certification and why?
A: I started considering state certification probably in 2000. However, I never seemed able to get through the application process, especially the financials. It seemed too involved and I did not know if it was really necessary.
Q: What helped you decide certification was the right next step for your business? What kinds of certifications do you have?
A: In May of 2006, I was on a sales call at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals with one of our employees. I was showing her the ropes of going on a sales call. The person we were meeting with just happened to be the one in charge of supplier diversity. He told us that he would tell all his buyers to check if suppliers were certified (it would be what they would look for on the homepage of the websites). I confessed to him that I had been considering state certification for years, but that I was very much on the fence. He asked me if we were interested in doing a lot of business with the government? I said no. He then asked me why I would consider state certification instead of WBENC. He told me that if I was interested in corporate clients, I should definitely get WBENC certified. He ‘pushed’ me off the fence and the very next day I started the WBENC application (it was an online process). I started in late May. While it did take me a couple of months to complete the process, I submitted all the documents in August of 2006 and received my certification on October 17, 2006.
Q: What do you know now about the certification process that you wish you knew in the past?
A: I did not know until I received my certification that it was only good for one year and you need to re-certify every year!
Q: How has certification helped your business grow?
A: It really has not helped our business grow; however, it has been a very useful tool for existing business. Also, I have grown my network significantly through the relationships I have fostered by attending the various WBENC programs and conferences.
Q: How has NAWBO helped you throughout your certification journey?
A: Interestingly, the man who encouraged me to go through the process in 2006 was someone I met through NAWBO (at the time, AstraZeneca was a corporate partner for NAWBO Philadelphia).
Q: Based on your experience, would you encourage others to consider certification? Why?
A: I would encourage others to consider certification depending on their industry. I have actually guided/mentored several NAWBO women on the certification process.