Virginia Tech Procurement Department’s integrated efforts to bolster supplier diversity have been recognized by the state.

Under the leadership of Mary Helmick, director of procurement, Virginia Tech has transformed its small, woman-owned, and minority-owned (SWaM) efforts through a dedicated SWaM program. In the past year, the department debuted a first-of-its-kind searchable SWaM directory and launched the SWaM Champions advocacy program to raise awareness about this important university commitment.

In light of these achievements, Helmick was honored with the 2019 Governor’s SWaM Innovator Award at the 2019 Virginia Public Procurement Forum in November 2019.

Helmick oversaw the project to create the searchable SWaM directory – a critical component for achieving the university’s strategic goals for supplier diversity. The Procurement Department had identified a need to help university purchasers more easily identify SWaM-certified vendors and worked to develop this tool with one guiding principle: create a frictionless search experience for any Virginia Tech user.

Unique among Virginia public institutions, this search-optimized, online directory launched in summer 2019 and offers many features that improve usability, including:

  • Typo tolerance, which allows the user to make a mistake while typing and still locate the supplier, good, or service they were searching for.
  • The creation of a custom synonym list to improve search results (such as typing “VA” instead of “Virginia”).
  • Custom rankings that allow Virginia Tech to increase the visibility of a supplier, good, or service if or when needed.

The directory updates its search results as the user is typing a query, and users can select from a host of filters – certification type, region, state, zip code, etc. – to further refine search parameters. The directory has already begun to transform the user experience and facilitate greater connections between SWaM-certified businesses and Virginia Tech.

More than $70 million in university discretional spending was awarded to SWaM vendors in fiscal year 2019.

The SWaM program’s upward trajectory is a product of robust sustained outreach and creation of new opportunities for vendors and the campus community. Virginia Tech’s annual Supplier Opportunity Vendor Fair attracted more than 90 vendors and 140 university purchasers this year. Presently, any university purchase up to $10,000 can be procured from a micro-small business without further competition. Helmick’s team regularly contributes to vendor fairs, outreach events, and statewide workgroups focused on supplier diversity.

The SWaM Champions program at Virginia Tech is comprised of university individuals who meet with potential vendors, share good experiences working with SWaM businesses, and help engage others at Virginia Tech with SWaM activities and best practices.

The SWaM program’s growth is embedded as a key milestone in The Virginia Tech Difference: Advancing Beyond Boundaries, with a goal to increase SWaM vendor utilization percentage each year. 

“I am proud to accept the 2019 Governor’s SWaM Innovator Award on behalf of the entire hardworking Virginia Tech Procurement team,” said Helmick. “Creating a welcoming environment and strong relationships with SWaM businesses is something we are really passionate about at Virginia Tech. Supplier diversity has such wide-reaching positive economic and social impacts across the commonwealth, and we are dedicated to further incorporating it into our purchasing activities and strategic goals.”

Helmick also currently serves as president of the Virginia Association of State College and University Purchasing Professionals, an organization that identifies opportunities for cooperative procurements and cost savings for higher education institutions in Virginia.

“I congratulate Mary and the entire Virginia Tech Procurement team for their continued contributions in championing supplier diversity, not only at Virginia Tech, but across the commonwealth. These efforts remain vital as the university continues to pursue institutional excellence across the administrative enterprise and beyond,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer Dwayne Pinkney.

More information about Virginia Tech’s SWaM efforts, the supplier directory tool, and how to join the SWaM Champion program is available here.  

Mary Helmick, Virginia Tech Director of Procurement
Helmick, pictured with her award, has led the delivery of Virginia Tech Procurement's first-of-its-kind searchable SWaM directory.
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