HUB Expo is the premier event for HUB businesses to learn about procurement opportunities through the state of Texas. This year’s Expo was Oct. 24 in Austin. Expo workshops offer tips for businesses pursuing state contracts. Networking opportunities with state procurement personnel help attendees build valuable relationships that will start them on the path to becoming “best value” state vendors.
To help kickoff this year’s HUB Expo, Line Items is profiling key entrepreneurs and detailing their path to success.
CEO, Possible Missions
Houston native Paula Mendoza believes in life’s possibilities.
When she set out to start her own business in 2001, with a mere $100 in her bank account, she named it Possible Missions Inc. And for the past 15 years, the company and its employees have lived up to the confidence its president and CEO had in the fledgling business.
Specializing in project management offices to clients in various industries, Possible Missions has compiled an impressive track record of success. The accolades have been many, from being named the Houston Minority Business Council’s Supplier of the Year in 2012 to earning the U.S. Small Business Administrator’s Award for Excellence in 2012. Along the way, Ms. Mendoza’s initial $100 investment in Possible Missions has been parlayed into an enterprise generating more than $20 million in annual revenue.
Line Items interviewed Ms. Mendoza in early October to learn more about her company’s impressive growth and how they have become one of the great success stories of the agency’s Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Program.
LI: What gave you the confidence to start Possible Missions?
Paula: I started out in corporate America and was the supplier diversity director for a national staffing company. I had reached that point in my career with several mentors helping me along the way but never really having the desire to ever become an entrepreneur. However, once I was in that position and dealing with small businesses all over the country, I began to think it was something I could possibly do and perhaps even provide more assistance if I had my own company and could make even more strategic decisions with a much quicker turnaround.
So, I took that leap of faith. I quit my corporate job and started Possible Missions. I started out working from my home.
Our first certification was with the city of Houston. I then became certified with the Houston Minority Business Council which, in turn, has a reciprocal agreement with the state, which is how I became HUB certified with the Comptroller’s office’s program.
LI: What has that certification meant to your company?
Paula: About 85 percent of my business from Day One has been because we had our HUB certification or my small business minority certification. I’m very grateful to the program, and I firmly support the need for the program, whether it’s the private sector, the government sector, school districts or universities. There is a need for HUB participation at all levels. When I’m working with clients and/or other small businesses, that is what my go-to is with them. I tell them that if they aren’t HUB certified in the state of Texas, that is their first responsibility as a business owner so that they can have access to those contracts and opportunities.
That is a strong point for me, because our certification has been a key marketing tool. Many businesses think that it is going to bring them contracts just because they are certified; it doesn’t work that way. I often give talks at entrepreneurial lunches or programs, and my message to them is that the certification is a very strong marketing tool for them. But it’s not a guarantee. And I took that same advice myself. We don’t depend on our HUB certification for business, but we know what a valuable tool it is and a critical certification to have. It has played a key role in our success.
I tell my staff all the time, we cannot let our HUB certification expire; we cannot miss a deadline to renew; it is essential to our business.
LI: Clearly, your numbers speak for themselves.
Paula: We have had significant growth. My first year in business, we posted revenues between $90,000 and $100,000. Last year we closed our books at more than $19 million. It has been fun, but a lot of hard work and late hours.
LI: How did the recent Hurricane Harvey-related flooding affect your business and employees?
Paula: We were very fortunate. As a small business, opening your doors is key. We were in constant communication with our staff during the storm and the flood, checking in on them and their families. We were blessed overall. Of our families and employees, only a few were affected. As a small business, I have to look at it always remembering that we do business in many different states. Just because we are suffering here, we can’t allow that to affect servicing our clients. We have clients all over the United States. They may not even realize the difficulties we are facing and think that business is as usual. As a small business, we are always expected to be up and running. A lot of times, people don’t think about that. If we put out an email alert letting them know that we are closed for the day, they’re thinking, ‘Where’s my product? I need my research supplies.’ We have to always keep that in mind. Once we knew that our employees were safe, those that could come into work did. And I’m very grateful that they did. Because they made sure that our clients didn’t suffer for the terrible challenges that Houston was facing. However, we have established such wonderful, caring clients that did call and check on us. They were genuinely concerned. And they told us they understood the situation and said, ‘Just get us what you can, when you can.’
For other local businesses that were flooded, we have offered our conference room; we’ve offered our offices so if they needed a place to operate, they had it. We have collaborated with other organizations to pool resources and help our brothers and sisters out in the entrepreneurial world. Our employees also donated boxes of clothing, delivering them directly to the George R. Brown [Convention Center] and went out to some of the other community service centers.
LI: What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned as president and CEO of Possible Missions?
Paula: I want this to be known – and it’s easy for me to say this now – but it’s important to remember when you’re first starting out that not all business is good business.
Quite often, a new business is struggling to make payroll; we’re struggling to pay our mortgage and our bills are due; so, we take any and all business because we think we need the income. But my advice to start-up small businesses is ‘vet your clients; make sure that they can pay you.’ I don’t mean that from a shallow respect at all. What I am saying is that we as small businesses have to pay bills and are responsible for employees. Therefore, we owe it to them to make sure we have a 30-day turnaround, and not just take every bit of business that comes along. Make sure it is right for you and your core business. And at the end of the day, make sure that your client is going to own up to their end of the agreement and pay you for your product or service.
The other bit of advice I would direct to small businesses that may think that certification is a cumbersome task and don’t make the effort to complete the application. This is my advice: If they are a good, sound, structurally organized company, then the requirements are just time that you need to take; you should have all of it in front of you. If you’re sound and structural, you have a bank account, you have deposits, invoices, you have financials and you should have those things. And once a company becomes certified, that is the first step towards telling your clients that your company has done its due diligence and is ready for business. It sends the message that you have your act together and are ready to do business with them.
Veronica Muzquiz Edwards, founder and CEO of San Antonio’s InGenesis, calls herself an “accidental entrepreneur.”
Veronica Muzquiz Edwards
President and CEO, InGenesis
After being downsized from a Fortune 500 corporate position, Veronica gave herself 90 days to start a business of her own and get it up and running. With just a handful of human resources-related assignments, she launched InGenesis, which has grown into one of the largest and most successful workforce solutions companies in North America and the largest healthcare staffing firm owned by a woman or minority. Fortune 500 clients, government agencies and academic institutions are included in the company’s impressive portfolio.
Line ltems recently interviewed Dr. Muzquiz Edwards to find out how the state’s Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Program has helped her 20-year-old company grow. A few weeks before our conversation, she was awarded her doctorate in business administration from the University of the Incarnate Word, walking the stage with her daughter, who also received her diploma that day.
LI: Tell me about those early years of InGenesis. What were your hopes for the company when you were just starting out?
Veronica: I launched InGenesis from my laundry room, but from Day One I worked to position my company for what I wanted it to become. Coming out of an 11-year stint in a large corporation was advantageous. With that regional management experience, I knew about building complex budgets, supplier optimization, human resources and managing the complexities of talent acquisition. Although I had recently completed my MBA, I benefited from influential mentors grounded in experience. It’s hard to believe we are approaching our 20-year anniversary, but I must admit every year has been an adventure.
LI: How did you learn about our HUB program?
Veronica: I discovered the certification not because I was looking for a diversity program but through great advice I received from the HUB director at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA). InGenesis had been in business five years, and we had just won a large staffing contract from the state of Texas. The HUB director asked if we had thought about becoming a HUB company because we met all the criteria. Based on his advice, I looked into it and thought it would be a great program for InGenesis.
LI: What have been your biggest accomplishments during your two decades in business?
Veronica: InGenesis has been the master supplier for UTHSCSA for several years, and we have been responsible for staffing clinical, professional and administrative positions. We applied our experience, technological platform, innovative practices and value-proposition in a recent request for proposals and we were awarded the Master Service Provider contract for the University of Texas System Supply Chain Alliance. InGenesis has an important role in supporting this contract vehicle, which is designed to save money by leveraging the collective purchasing power of the UT System institutions. I am proud of this accomplishment, the opportunity to increase certified HUB participation, our responsibility to deliver cost savings, and our customer satisfaction levels.
LI: What advice would you offer to those who hope to be “accidental entrepreneurs,” too?
Veronica: You have to be honest with yourself. It’s so easy to be inspired when you hear stories of others who have been successful, and we tend to focus on the executives at the top. But the key to success is to study the failures, the land mines that have been revealed by the companies that have gone belly up. After observing that landscape, I have a good grasp on developing the right partnerships, building the right relationships with financial institutions, developing a long-term strategic business plan and, above all, hiring brilliant leaders.
After all my years in business, I know that failure is more common than success. To avoid that crushing disappointment, I would encourage budding entrepreneurs to develop a business strategy that is not reliant on minority or gender status. Ultimately, clients will engage with the strongest company. The fact that we may have a HUB certification should be a value-add.
LI: What’s the closest you’ve come to failure? What were the hardest times InGenesis has faced?
Veronica: For nine consecutive years, Inc. magazine named InGenesis one of the fastest growing privately-held businesses in the country. Clearly, we are accustomed to managing growth, but we were caught off guard on New Year’s Eve 2015 when our headquarters had a five-alarm fire. The fire hit our centralized infrastructure, which supported thousands of employees around the country.
That was our darkest moment, when we found ourselves temporarily homeless. Fortunately, a university in the area offered us temporary space on their campus, and we were able to work there on fold-out picnic tables for a few months. I am very proud of the instinctive crisis leadership which emerged throughout our disaster recovery. Decisions over the next year involved building an enterprise infrastructure worthy of our future strategic state. I found it both a challenge and an opportunity to buy and refurbish a new facility while simultaneously investing in [information technology] applications and infrastructure. Unbelievably, the fire brought us to a more mature business stage, and we came back from the tragedy even stronger than before.
LI: What happened to your plans for growth right after the fire? Did they go up in smoke, too?
Veronica: Within days after the fire I gathered my team, established a high revenue goal and put forth an executive challenge to develop a 2021 strategic business plan. Honestly, I looked five years into the future, well past our disaster recovery. My team looked at me like I was crazy, but I was confident in our sustainability and our ability to build the business bigger than before. It’s been three years since our New Year’s Eve fire, and our growth trajectory has not diminished. Available disaster recovery statistics or best practices for a privately held large business are not readily available, but I think a dash of “crazy” vision is a great attribute.
LI: Has your vision been the key to success?
Veronica: I give thanks to my wonderful staff. When we announced the grand opening of our new facility, I was proud and amazed that our clients and our employees on nationwide assignments didn’t know we were displaced by a fire for almost a year. The fire was something that happened, but we didn’t allow it to disrupt our goals or our passion to be the best. FN