ThrottleUp! Finalist: Vendor Registry making good progress, has beta version deployed

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of five articles describing the companies that will make pitches during Tech 20/20’s “Entrepreneurial Imperative 2012” conference November 12 and 13 at the Knoxville Marriott.)

There’s been a good deal of progress made by the team at Knoxville-based Vendor Registry since we published our first story about the company more than four months ago (https://www.teknovation.biz/2012/06/03/vendor-registry-planning-link-local-governments-vendors/).

We caught-up with co-founders Brian Strong and Chris Van Beke recently for an update in advance of next month’s “Entrepreneurial Imperative 2012” conference where Vendor Registry will be one of six companies making pitches during the “ThrottleUp!” competition.

The company was founded to make it easier and more efficient for local governments to connect with vendors and for vendors to maintain just one master profile that would satisfy the registration requirements of as many buyers as they select. Vendor Registry offers two options –registration only or both registration and notification of bid opportunities.

Like many start-ups, it has been an educational experience for Strong and Van Beke.

“The farther we dig, the more we are learning about how complicated the system of registration is,” Strong said. One important insight that the co-founders have gained is the disconnect between registering with a local government and actually getting to bid on solicitations.

“We are trying to debunk the assumption that, if I register, I will automatically get opportunities,” Van Beke says. “Registration is like hunting season. You have a license, but how do you know where to hunt.”

This is where Vendor Registry’s notification system plays a critical role. It operates like an RSS feed, informing Vendor Registry’s subscribers of opportunities that cities and counties post.

Today, the company has eight area local governments signed-up to use the Beta version of its software. They include five counties – Anderson, Blount, Knox, McMinn and Sevier – and three cities – Knoxville, Maryville and Oak Ridge. Funding gained as a winner of the “ThrottleUp” competition would enable Vendor Registry to accelerate its planned rollout across Tennessee and beyond.

Van Beke expects the next version of the software to be available by the end of the first quarter of CY 2013. “We want to get the core functionality just right,” he explains, adding that the Vendor Registry team is spending considerable time with buyers and vendors to observe how they use the software and make continually tweaks to best meet their needs.

To generate interest and build an initial customer base, Vendor Registry is allowing companies wanting to sell to cities or counties to establish their profile and select one local government buyer at no cost to the vendor.

The vendor’s profile drives the system by defining the products or services that the company wants to sell, but it is also the only time that the company has to enter the information and enable access to it by any local government using the Vendor Registry product. For those who regularly have to complete questionnaires in every doctor’s office, the ability to enter and update information one-time for multiple parties is a distinct advantage.

Van Beke explained that smaller jurisdictions might have just one buyer while larger cities like Knoxville have both centralized purchasing and buyers in individual departments.

“We want to level the playing field for small businesses,” Van Beke said. One way that they see this happening is by making buyers aware of small companies and their products when a procurement falls under the dollar threshold that calls for a formal bidding process. Purchases like those frequently are done through telephone bidding.

To better understand the needs of small businesses, Strong and Van Beke have been working closely with people like Doug Minter at the Knoxville Chamber, Jonathan Williams with the Tennessee Veterans Business Association and Marilyn Cobble with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

They also praised Lisa Shipley and Justin O’Hara with the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Municipal Technical Advisory Service for their help in understanding the needs of city purchasing agents. In addition, they cited Paul Middlebrooks of UT’s Center for Industrial Services who regularly helps small businesses connect to government procurement opportunities.

Vendor Registry has a pricing template at http://www.vendorregistry.com/pricing. The “registration only” option is $19 per buyer per year. If a vendor wants both registration and notification, there are three options – bronze, silver and gold – that are priced based on volume of services.

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