Cecilia promo shotOur preferred weekend catering partner, Heartfelt Catering, recently received minority certification from the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council. Owner, Chef Cecelia Hamilton, tells us what inspired her to seek the certification, and how easy it can be!

What inspired you to do it?

Becoming a minority and/or female certified business has always been on my radar. I needed to understand which certifying agency was right for my business. I’m looking for Heartfelt Catering to gain more corporate clients.  As I met with potential clients, one of the first questions asked was if I was a certified minority or female business. My hope is to have this certification open up a lot more business opportunities for Heartfelt Catering to spread our love, our style of food and service with people in Chicago.

How long had you been thinking about doing it?

Before starting Heartfelt Catering, I knew I wanted to seek minority and/or female certification. I became aware of the minority and female business enterprises when I was an undergraduate student interning with a small business agency. That agency’s focus was on federal contracts. In the past year and a half I became more focused with understanding the different certifying bodies, attending their meetings to understand the requirements, the fees, the public or private entities who use their services. Last May the University of Chicago hosted a joint information certification session with the Women’s Business Development Center and the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council (Chicago MSDC).  That session provided a good, comprehensive review of the process, the documentation required, information the Center and Council review to determine if you can become certified. I knew then that the Chicago MSDC would be the first agency I became certified with. I do plan to seek female certification.

How easy was it to actually get it done?

It was pretty easy.  I say that now that it’s completed! (By the way, I just received word of my MBE certification in the past week.)  As long as you have your documentation in order: tax records, financial statements, other documentation proving you are a minority business, the process is fairly easy. I had a very nice conversation with one of my targeted company’s procurement officer about applying for certification. She explained that I could complete the paperwork with the Chicago MSDC in a weekend.  In theory, she was correct. However, I did have to track down a few pieces of information that I didn’t have in my files, I needed to get my accountant involved in a couple of things, so completing the application took a little longer than the weekend. The MSDC has an online application that makes it quite easy to complete. Once the application was submitted and they reviewed the documents, they did request additional or missing documentation. Those documents were easily accessible so I was able to submit them the same or next day.  The time for MSDC’s review and approval was about 60 days. They tell you it can take up to 90 days because of the documentation review, committee and board review, etc.

Anything else you would like to express about this?

Certification with one agency doesn’t mean you’re certified with them all. If anyone is thinking about certification, I suggest they first determine what businesses or contracts they’re targeting, attend an information session with the certifying agencies to understand their application process, fees, etc.

In addition, I learned that being certified doesn’t mean that business will “fall in my lap”.  It still requires me to be active and get involved. If you’re committed to your business, your growth and what it takes to succeed, then go for it!

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