By Rita Negrete Rousseau
For Carolyn Caballero, joining HACIA and obtaining certification of her company as a minority- and woman-owned business enterprise was a way to make her mark—literally—on a whole new field of business and set of customers.
Ever since she departed her 9-to-5 web developer job at Northwestern University to found Bella Dia Designs, Caballero has been leaving her imprint as a business-to-business web designer and graphic artist. For years, she worked primarily with marketing consultants and event planners nationwide. “But I missed face-to-face interactions,” she says. “I wanted to build a more local client base. So I decided to get into the construction arena.”
Although dealing with architects and companies in the building trades was new to her, it was a logical fit, she says. “Every business, no matter the industry, needs branding and marketing services,” Caballero points out. “I create a unified package—a website, business cards, logos, marketing collateral, capability statements.”
HACIA was first a customer of Caballero’s company. Then, she got involved as a member, took classes, joined the board of directors, and, with the help of a fellow board member, completed the painstaking process of applying for certification in Chicago as a minority-owned and woman-owned business enterprise (in government parlance, MBE and WBE, sometimes shortened to MWBE for companies that meet both requirements).
Acquiring these credentials was “just a terrific asset to my business,” she says. “It adds credibility, sets my creative professional services apart.” Being MBE- and WBE-certified helped her bid on and win contracts for marketing services from agencies like the Chicago Housing Authority, PACE transit system and Illinois Tollway. One current project: signage and marketing graphics for a brand-new environmental laboratory at Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal.
But just as critical to Caballero are the opportunities to network.
“Becoming certified has given me exclusive access to databases of suppliers, peers and experts,” she says. “A lot of government agencies offer training and networking opportunities, and that gives me opportunities to meet prime contractors and top purchasing agents in construction.” Certification has “opened doors,” she adds, not only to large government agencies, but also to large private companies that have their own supplier diversity goals.
Now, she says, “I get to meet so many contractors, architects, engineers and financial people. I’ve been doing more signage, bidding different types of jobs, learning about different opportunities. It’s been really interesting.”