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USC Marshall School of Business prepares small businesses for large contracts

Kimberly Kelly-Rolfe, a Locke High School graduate, teaches the Certified Business Enterprise Supplier Training at USC’s Marshall School of Business. Photo by Jason Lewis


The business school’s 20-week program helps small companies obtain six figure contracts.

By Tracey Edwards

There are big business opportunities for local small businesses, but one issue is that a lot of mom-and-pops are not prepared to take on large, six to seven-figure contracts.

Most small businesses that have a limited staff and financial resources can handle smaller jobs, but larger jobs require more employees, and a larger budget to maintain payroll while waiting for payment from a large corporation.  These issues cause a lot of local businesses to miss out on larger contracts.

USC Marshall School of Business has created the Certified Business Enterprise Supplier Training (CBEST) program to help small businesses become certified, which positions them to obtain large contracts from corporations.  

“This program takes a business that may be struggling to pay bills, and positions them to be qualified for a contract that can and sometimes be upwards of $1 million,” said Kimberly Kelly-Rolfe, director of the certified business enterprise supplier training program at USC.

Kelly-Rolfe runs this 20-week program that is designed to train minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses for the capacity to take on both corporate and government contracts.  

“This program is going to provide businesses with executive education from one of the top 20 business schools in the nation, and in addition to that hold the business owner's hand and walks them through the requirements necessary to qualify for certification,” she said.  “For instance, for some of the projects that they engage in, they will actually submit an RFP (request for proposal) for a contract opportunity as well as submitting bids.”

A program of this nature is extremely important for Black communities, which usually lag behind other races in business ownership, employment, and wealth.

“This program has the ability to change our community,” Kelly-Rolfe said.  “One of the things that I often tell people when they ask me why I do this, I tell them the story about how in 2015 my husband and I had the opportunity to travel to the White House during the Obama Administration to meet with his staff.  One of the things that they told us is that not only do small businesses make the world go round, but if every small business, with small businesses being the largest employer, would employ one more person, we could have total employment in this country.  For me, I looked at my own community and thought that I have to do something.  The CBEST program is my way of doing something.”

Kelly-Rolfe, who graduated from Locke High School and received a Master’s degree in entrepreneurship and innovation from USC, has been a business trainer for 10 years.  She held a similar program for NBC Universal’s existing and potential vendors.  

“That program was amazing,” she said.  “It's got very high reviews.  The businesses loved the program.  We put them through eight weeks of training and at the end did some matchmaking for opportunities at NBC Universal.”

For the USC program, there will be five business modules.  Foundation in business; sales and marketing; contracting; financials; and pitching the business for contracts and investment opportunities.

This program is also important because many small businesses do not start off with the right foundation.

“I think that sometimes entrepreneurs are very excited to get out there and start a company, but we don't always look at everything that it takes,” Kelly-Rolfe said.  “The most successful businesses starts with teams of four.  That has something to do with the fact that it's not one person trying to wear 100 hats.  That's very difficult and it's very stressful.  When you go into business by yourself, the growth of the company is limited to you.  It's limited to your skills, your knowledge, your ability, and how much time you can give.  Now if you start to expand that business with a team, now you have a little bit more leeway.  Depending on the size of your team,  you all have the ability to accomplish a lot more.”

This course begins on January 25.  There are scholarship opportunities and applications are now being accepted.  For more information, contact the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies Marshall School of Business at (213) 740-0641, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit the Incubators & Accelerators page at www.marshall.usc.edu.


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