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Tampa’s fifth Super Bowl offers small businesses a get-in-the-game opportunity

The NFL’s Business Connect seeks to put local businesses owned by women, minorities, veterans and LGBTQ entrepreneurs in a position to compete for Super Bowl contracts.

TAMPA — Next year’s Super Bowl likely will bring several million dollars worth of contracts to Tampa Bay area businesses, and some of those companies have a path to improve their chances to win some game-related work.

But to take that path they need to act in the next two weeks.

The NFL runs a program called Business Connect through the local host committee to find and screen companies owned by women, minorities, veterans and LGBT entrepreneurs to provide goods or services needed by Super Bowl contractors.

The opportunities fall into nearly three dozen categories, ranging from catering, entertainment and floral services to providing portable toilets, security and waste removal to photography and printing.

Related: Ahead of Super Bowl LV, NFL seeks diverse Tampa Bay vendors and businesses

So far at least 424 companies from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties have applied, but Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee Business Connect director LaKendria Robinson would like to get more in the mix before the Feb. 14 application deadline.

After that, the host committee will spend about a month screening applicants to create a pool of about 300 companies NFL contractors can use.

“We don’t guarantee that the 300 businesses will get a contract,” she said. “Once we choose the 300 businesses or vendors, we will create a Business Connect resource guide that lists all of the businesses, their specialties and what their capacity is. The contractors can refer to that guide to select their vendor or they can contact to us directly and say, ‘Hey, give me your top five caterers that can serve a 1,500-person plated dinner.’ ”

The league emphasizes the importance of the Business Connect initiative through clear, consistent and repeated messaging, so Robinson thinks contractors recognize participation as a way to maintain a good relationship with the NFL.

This is not a new program.

When Tampa hosted the game in 2001, 105 local businesses owned by women and minorities won $2.5 million in Super Bowl-related contracts. In 2009, the initiative returned as the Emerging Business program and helped steer $3.96 million in game-related business to more than 130 bay area companies.

“It could have a significant impact on their small businesses,” said A.J. Dadetto, president of the Tampa chapter of the National Association of Catering & Events. After hearing about the program, he invited Robinson to a meeting of his chapter last month.

“I have a lot of women, minority and gay and lesbian members, so it was a fit — not for everyone — but it fit a lot of them,” he said. Before hearing from Robinson, “there was a lot of things they didn’t know. Now they’re willing to go the extra mile and apply.”

Michelle Palisi, who has four employees at Chocolates by Michelle in New Port Richey, showed up for the event with a sample of what she can bring to the party: round white chocolate candies topped with an edible Super Bowl host committee logo.

“Anything with a logo,” said Palisi, who said she has qualified to be a vendor for past Tampa Super Bowls. “Any shape. Any size.”

Related: Super Bowl host committee looks ahead to an 'event unlike any other'

To be eligible for Business Connect, companies must be certified as having at least 51 percent minority, women, veterans or LGBT ownership. The certifications must come from city, county or state agencies that qualify companies to participate in women- and minority-owned business programs, or from the Tampa Bay Small Business Development Center, the Florida State Minority Supplier Development Council or the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

Companies also must have a physical office, be the direct source of the goods or services they’re selling and must have been in business in Hillsborough, Pinellas or Pasco counties since January 2017.

An application deadline 51 weeks before the game might seem soon, but Robinson said the schedule is driven by when the contractors will need to start issuing requests for proposals and seeking bids.

“We’ve gotten quite a few applications, but the lift is so heavy that we need more catering and security,” she said. Other categories in demand: furniture, fencing, decorations, contract labor, golf cart rental, janitorial services and waste removal.

As part of the program, Business Connect will offer networking and business development programs to help vendors prepare for the Super Bowl bidding process as well as a series of workshops focused on strategies to help new businesses enhance and manage their growth.

“It's one thing to invite businesses to participate,” said Robinson, who before joining the host committee created the minority business accelerator program for the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce (then the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce). “It’s something totally different to make sure they're prepared for those types of opportunities and those types of conversations.”

After the 2009 Super Bowl, the owner of a 12-employee security firm told the Tampa Tribune he was thrilled to get two game-related contracts totaling $65,000, but was less happy when his costs to provide the services added up to $75,000.

“Obviously, this is one of the biggest games in the world, so the stakes are much higher and the expectations are much higher,” Robinson said. “Making sure that our local businesses are prepared and set up for success is something that we will work on during that March to February timeline.”

Longtime Tampa party planner Cindy Dervech has worked with past Super Bowls providing “all kinds of things” — bands, interactive performers, parties with beach themes — and always listens closely to what organizers say about using local businesses.

“This year, they seem like they’re being very transparent,” she said. “If they do what they say they’re going to do, it’ll be kudos to them.”

To learn more and apply

Go to tampabaylv.com/businessconnect/

What they’re looking for

Audio visual

Concrete barricades

Cable wire contractors

Carpet/flooring

Catering

Contract labor

Decorations

Entertainment

Heavy equipment rental

Event production

Fencing

Field turf

Florists

Furniture

General contractors

Generators

Golf carts

Graphics

Hardware supplies

Janitorial services

Office supplies

Photography/video

Portable toilets

Printing

Scaffolding

Security

Hospitality staffing

Staging

Temporary housing

Tents

Trailers

Transportation

Waste removal

White-glove service

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