By Joyce Gannon Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Two decades ago, Carol Philp launched a branding and promotions business in her basement. The Aspinwall company, CPI Creative, now counts among its clients the Pittsburgh Pirates for which it has designed game day giveaways such as the Pirate Parrot soap dispenser and a kids' paddle ball game.
When the 2006 All-Star Game was played at PNC Park, Ms. Philp's longtime relationship with the hometown team helped land a contract with Major League Baseball.
But being a woman-owned business certified by the Women's Business Enterprise Council of PA-DE-NJ also helped seal the deal. "The Pirates called and said the MLB wanted to meet women- and minority-owned businesses, and we started working with them," recalled Ms. Philp. "It sounds easy but it isn't. We're just a small company from Aspinwall."
CPI Creative is one of 180 women-owned businesses in the Pittsburgh region certified by the council and one of 960 in Pennsylvania.
The regional organization, founded in 2000, is an affiliate of the Women's Business Enterprise National Council and includes nearly 1,100 women-owned businesses in Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey, said Geri Swift, president. More than 13,000 businesses in the U.S. are certified by the national council, she said.
The regional council serves as the official third-party certification provider for the state of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia.
The city of Pittsburgh maintains its own certification process, said Ms. Swift.
For CPI Creative, Ms. Philp said, the primary benefit of being certified is gaining access to corporations, government agencies and nonprofits that in many cases are required to allot a percentage of contracts to minority-owned suppliers and providers.
To become certified, businesses must pay a fee ranging from $350 to $1,000 depending on annual revenues and submit to a review of standards so that companies and others who award them contracts "know they are truly a business owned, operated and managed by women," said Ms. Swift.
The regional council today is scheduled to hold an event at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, Downtown.
Women-owned businesses will have the chance to mingle with companies and government officials from organizations such as PNC Financial Services Group, Shell Energy, FirstEnergy, Dollar Bank, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
Also scheduled to attend are representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration and Slippery Rock University's Government Contracting Assistance Center. Both organizations help women gain access to public sector contracts, said Ms. Swift.
Registration for the event has closed.
Ms. Swift, who is based in Philadelphia and who owned a management and systems consulting firm in the 1980s and 1990s, said companies certified by the council are entered into a national database that also includes businesses seeking products and services from diverse suppliers.
"Certification is really a marketing tool," she said. "You still have to have a quality product and service ... but you have access to companies that are opening their doors to women-owned enterprises."
Nationwide, there were 9.9 million women-owned businesses in 2012, up 28 percent from 2007, according to the SBA.
While their numbers are growing, women entrepreneurs still face challenges including getting access and equal opportunities, said Ms. Swift.
Next month, Ms. Philp will represent the regional council when she is honored by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council at its annual summit in Phoenix. Besides bringing attention to Pittsburgh, she said, her recognition at the national event puts a spotlight on small, women-owned enterprises.
"Big corporations have to stay innovative but their models aren't quite as flexible and nimble as a small company like mine," said Ms. Philp, whose company has five employees.
"When they can align with a small business, it creates magic for both sides."