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LGBT Certification Gives Co. Visibility, Opportunity

Pride Resource Partners CEO Joe Maak has worked in San Diego since 1997, but it wasn’t until 2014 that he got the push he needed to launch his own business. His company, which provides project management and other services to public utilities, is on track to record $5.5 million in revenue this year, nearly double what it made the previous year.It was the discovery that the United Technologies Corp. subsidiary where he had been recently hired, engine maker Pratt & Whitney, had decided to leave Southern California that gave him the the impetus he needed, said Maak, an immigrant from Germany whose background includes experience in engineering, architecture and project management.

“That gave the little kick in the you know what,” he said. “I was tired of working for the man: I wanted to be the man.”

He looked around for a business opportunity, and discovered that the California Public Utilities Commission had recently added an LGBT certification to its program that encourages utilities to work with minority-owned businesses.

Rapid Growth

Maak, who is gay, got Pride Resource certified as such, which entered it into a supplier database that can be accessed by participating utilities statewide. The firm has grown quickly and now employs 28, with projected revenue of $5.5 million. That’s fewer than two years after it incorporated, and nearly double what the company made the year prior. In the first six months of this year the firm took in $2.5 million; in the same time period the previous year its revenues were $770,000.

Supplier diversity initiatives in the business community have been around for at least 30 years, according to the Human Rights Campaign; they were founded in an effort to promote the inclusion of entrepreneurial groups that are more likely to face barriers to success.

Maak said in addition to the usual business plan, companies that want to be certified have to prove they are owned by someone in the LGBT community. Maak said he had it easier than others he knows going through the process because he had previously been in a domestic partnership with various documentation.

Business Participation

As of June 2016, 68 LGBT-owned businesses had been added to the CPUC’s database.

“I’m really pleased that we had another good year of utility spending with diverse businesses, which are by and large small businesses,” said Michael Picker, president of CPUC, in a report released in 2016 about the companies that participated in its suppliers diversity program the previous year. “Year after year the utilities have been steadily increasing their financial commitment to diverse firms, in large part because it’s a prudent financial decision and helps bring prosperity and jobs to the communities where consumers live and work.”

Maak said Pride Resource’s inclusion landed it its first contract, signed at the tail end of 2015, with Kansas City, Missouri-based engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, which was working with San Diego Gas & Electric Co., a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE).

“It opened up some doors for me,” Maak said.

Today the firm is working on 40-some projects for utilities.

Pride Resources has plans for major growth ahead: the firm was awarded $1.8 million over five years in tax benefits through the Cal Competes program, which requires companies meet certain milestones to receive the benefits. Its business plan projects the company reaching 250 employees by 2020.

Maak said a strength of the company is in identifying the right people to hire for projects.

He brought a handful of people with him to start the new firm when he left Pratt & Whitney. Now he is getting unsolicited resumes as the firm becomes better known in the market.

At the moment the company has 15 categories of “mission specialists,” as Maak calls them, which work in roles ranging from project manager to inspector to dispatcher.

Tapping Executive Resource

Challenges Maak has faced have included managing the rapid growth — Maak joined executive coaching organization Vistage to learn from other CEOs — and convincing entities the company has enough firepower and a track record to complete the work it’s bidding on.

Pride Resource is getting its name out there by participating in community events, such as the city’s annual Pride Parade, and endowing a scholarship for LGBTQIA students at MiraCosta College.

The company has also been certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. About 1,000 businesses have been designated as such by the chamber since 2004. Pride Resource was one of 15 semifinalists this year for the organization’s LGBT Biz Pitch.

Next on the company’s radar is getting certified to work for the federal Department of Defense.

Maak says California’s plan to spend billions in coming years on infrastructure creates a huge business opportunity for diverse businesses since the state will allocate a portion of that to such firms.

“That pot is huge, because you have to go through a program with the state to be allowed to participate, and even then, if you are certified it doesn’t mean you get the job,” he said. “You do your bids and hope you get (the contract).”

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