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City Certification Process for Small and Minority Businesses Creates Confusion, Room to Err

By Krishna Scully, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — When compared with other certification processes that help entrepreneurs do business with governmental entities, several small and minority-owned businesses in Hartford have to navigate a maze of conflicting information and other barriers to be certified.

Qualifying differences and barriers include, but are not limited to, the mountain of documents required and unclear language on various application forms.

According to Hartford’s Procurement Unit’s handbook, an entrepreneur should “be doing business” in the city for at least a year. However, Eloy Toppin, the city’s outreach specialist, recently told a Caribbean-American sole proprietor that she should “be registered” for at least a year. Though she has been known for doing business in the city for several years and had submitted all the required documents, Toppin denied her application.  However, the state and federal government certified her in about 30 days—and with fewer documents.

Thus, Hartford’s certification process has its critics.

Balam Soto, owner of Open Wire Lab, certified his business with the City of Hartford.  He said the process was laborious and sleepy.

“The sleepy parts were mostly the vocabulary used on the forms,” he said. “One example can be found when accessing the certification application.  The section headed, “should I apply” states, “Has your firm been in business for a year.” How should one interpret that? Must they be registered or simply “in business” for a year?

Toppin did, however, certify a Vernon-based business owner P. Nikia Pinkney, an African-American who does consulting work with nonprofits. Her company, Mission Longevity, LLC, is not registered with the city but with the state. A former employee at a construction company, Pinkney said she knows the advantages of being certified as a female-owned and minority business.

“If you’re a contractor, there’s a lot of work because the state requires a percentage of work be awarded to minority businesses,” she said. “If you’re not registered with the city, you won’t know or can’t bid on those contracts.”

The certification process also helps other kinds of businesses, Pinkney said.

“I do nonprofit consulting work and the city might not do a lot of those, but it’s just another avenue to take advantage of,” she said. “Opportunities will become available and you want to put yourself in line for that business.”

The sole purpose of certification is to ensure that businesses have access to all available opportunities so they can enjoy success, expand and hire, experts say.

According to Small Business Administration’s specialist Denis Byrne, a certification is one of the critical elements that help business grow.

“Before you can begin business with the government your business must obtain the proper certifications. Small business certifications are like professional certifications; they document a special capability or status that will help you compete in the marketplace.”

Unlike permits and licenses, you do not need to obtain certifications to legally operate. However, in order to take advantage of business opportunities, such as government contracts, you may need to obtain some certifications.

Federal, state and local governments offer businesses opportunities to sell billions of dollars worth of products and services. Many government agencies require that some percentage of the procurements be set aside for small businesses. To compete for certain contract bid opportunities exclusively for small business, you must first register as a vendor at

“Certifying your business can definitely help you successfully compete for government contracts,” Byrne said.

The glaring question is then, why an unclear and cumbersome process for a sole proprietor?

Several phone calls and emails to Procurement Agent Tara Washington went unanswered. Washington is responsible for “maximizing local vendor participation.”


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