Helping Indigenous businesses participate in federal procurement

Indigenous entrepreneur Cydney Mar recently discovered that, with support from Procurement Assistance Canada, a small business owner like herself can compete effectively for federal contracts.

Close up of a person wearing a stylish face mask

Procurement Assistance Canada is a team within Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC). Through 6 regional offices, this team provides guidance and information to small business owners, and business owners from diverse backgrounds, on navigating the federal procurement process.

“The amount of support they provide is astonishing,” says Ms. Mar, who wants to share the details of her journey to becoming a federal supplier. She hopes it will inspire other entrepreneurs, especially in the Indigenous community, to try selling their goods and services to the Government of Canada:

“I want my people to be proud of what they’re doing because they have a lot of skills and talents. They just don’t necessarily know they can offer them to the government and be successful there. I want people to understand that federal procurement isn’t daunting. In fact, it can be a really safe place to find support and do business.”

How Cydney Mar became a federal supplier

The owner of a goods and services firm focusing on business consulting and product development of apparel and vitamins, Ms. Mar has particularly extensive experience in fashion design and manufacturing.

For 3 decades, she sold her apparel to major fashion retailers and on the Television Shopping Channel worldwide, but she never considered the Government of Canada as a potential buyer. “It wasn’t on my radar,” she says. This was because federal procurement seemed complex, she didn’t know what the government buys and she assumed only large firms could bid on contracting opportunities.

That all changed in the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada.

Ms. Mar saw people wearing ill-fitting and unflattering cloth masks. She felt that, with her expertise in apparel, she could offer the public better options and launched a new product line, Face Mask Love.

One of her contacts put her in touch with the City of Montréal, which soon became a client for her masks. From there, Ms. Mar began exploring other public tender sites and came across a federal contracting opportunity for cloth face masks. It happened to be a contract tender set aside for bids by Indigenous suppliers under the Procurement Strategy for Indigenous Business. She was eager to submit a bid but wasn’t sure where to start, until she connected with Procurement Assistance Canada.

She attended some of their free seminars on navigating the federal procurement process and reached out to them with questions, always receiving prompt and practical responses:

“They answered my endless stream of emails or hopped on quick calls to provide me with guidance, so that I don’t get in my own way for a little bit of lack of knowledge on how government procurement works.”

Fashionable cloth face mask

These services, combined with her effort and commitment, helped Ms. Mar win the masks contract. Learning how to navigate the federal procurement system was a critical factor behind her success, she explains. “Business owners need to know that there are many effective teaching tools and a support framework available.”

Procurement Assistance Canada also encouraged Ms. Mar to create a corporate profile on the federal government’s Indigenous Business Directory. They later recommended she become a pre-qualified services supplier on a database called ProServices and supported her during the registration process. As a result, Ms. Mar reached out to Elders in several Indigenous communities to work together on a bid for consultation services related to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Ms. Mar has even higher aspirations for the future. While she is Nlaka’pamux, Thompson River Salish, she is now looking at setting up a joint venture with a Mohawk community to bid on larger federal projects. When she’s ready, she knows Procurement Assistance Canada will be there to help her understand how to approach these contracting opportunities: “They will walk me through all the steps.”

There’s no doubt that Procurement Assistance Canada has opened new doors for Ms. Mar’s entrepreneurial ventures. “This has been a great way of advancing and balancing my business,” she notes. Ms. Mar believes that, if other small business owners knew they could figure out federal contracting with education and guidance, they would feel much more comfortable competing for contracting opportunities. She is now a strong advocate in the Indigenous community for building and growing Indigenous businesses by working with the federal government.

Increasing Indigenous participation in federal procurement

The Government of Canada wants to ensure we see more success stories like Cydney Mar’s.

Engagement and reconciliation with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities is a key federal priority. One means of furthering these reconciliation goals is by increasing the participation of Indigenous businesses in the federal procurement process, which will help these firms and communities thrive.

Most recently, the federal government has made it a requirement for all departments and agencies to award a minimum of 5% of the total value of contracts each year to Indigenous businesses. PSPC is leading the implementation of this initiative, which will be fully phased in by 2024.

Meanwhile, Procurement Assistance Canada works directly with Indigenous businesses to provide them with information on selling to the government and on opportunities and initiatives (like the Indigenous Business Directory) specific to their community. They have also established partnerships with Indigenous industry associations, such as the Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council, to deliver seminars for their members and develop a two-way dialogue that sheds light on the community’s needs.

In addition, Procurement Assistance Canada has launched a new coaching service to help business owners from diverse social backgrounds, including Indigenous Peoples, who have had limited success competing for federal contracts. The coaching involves personal sessions within a formalized program.

Increasing Indigenous representation in the economy provides exciting opportunities for Indigenous businesses while benefiting all Canadians by creating a more competitive procurement environment.

See the article Making it easier for businesses to work with the government for more information about Procurement Assistance Canada or visit Procurement support for businesses.

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