At the first export networking meeting Lisa Phillip attended, she was warned that, unless her family had been in the male-dominated export industry for generations, she had little chance to become an exporter, let alone be successful. Undaunted, she started her now hugely successful company in 2002 at home while pursuing a master’s degree in business administration.
“Two years after starting Hybas, I had the nerve to diversify the business and get into the oil and gas industry, too, which was really dominated by men,” Lisa said. I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ But I remembered what my father told me as a little girl—you can conquer anything and succeed if you have confidence and self-discipline. I remember those exact words.”
With the Dot-Com economy improving, the former Exxon and Compaq employee earned her first contract six months before graduating. In an era before the Internet was widely developed, Lisa taught herself the ropes the old-fashioned way by doing research in the library, going to export workshops, networking at conferences, attending trade missions, and building on referrals.
Lisa’s Houston-based business, Hybas International, LLC—From American 2U, now exports a variety of American products overseas with three employees, three contractors and a supply chain of bulk carriers, vessel carriers and truck drivers. Responding to a need for more women and minority small businesses to enter the federal contracting market, Lisa added a new client to her portfolio in 2016: the U.S. government.
Her five-year contract provides chemicals and supplies to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which has added stability to the growth of her company—a success story she shared at a recent ChallengeHER event in Houston organized by Women Impacting Public Policy, the Small Business Administration and American Express OPEN.
“For the longest time, we didn’t even have an office,” Lisa said. “All of our business transactions were for hazardous bulk purchases that could never come to an office. My philosophy in business is, ‘Don’t buy what you don’t have to.’ We purchased an office/warehouse when we could buy one and when we needed one. As a result of this business practice, we are a debt-free company and own all of our assets. When the economy spirals downward, we can withstand it.”
Lisa had first sought a government contract about 10 years ago but didn’t know how to navigate the time-consuming, painstaking process of qualifying and competing. Now, at ChallengeHER workshops across the country, women can learn the ropes and make personal connections that empower and equip them to successfully pursue federal contracts by working through red tape.
“Understandably, a lot of people aren’t willing to do the homework required to learn how to submit bids correctly,” said Lisa. “That’s why it’s so important to attend ChallengeHER events. Not only are you exposed to all the resources necessary to be competitive, but you meet other women who have faced similar challenges trying to break into the business of working with the government.”
ChallengeHER participants connect with the Small Business Administration, Procurement Technical Assistance Centers and other government contractors to learn step-by-step directions on how to complete Requests for Proposals or Requests for Qualifications that determine who earns federal contracts.
“It’s a great deal of work to get a federal contract—putting the solicitation together, waiting to see if you won the bid, and if you lose, finding the energy to go after another one,” Lisa said. “While that’s true for any job you don’t get, knowing what you’re up against before you try is so critical.”
In addition to establishing a company within the federal contracting system, other topics explored at ChallengeHer events include marketing and writing proposals, funding a contract, subcontracting to vendors, and leveraging certifications as a woman-owned business. The opportunity for free networking with potential buyers and contacts outside the federal government is priceless for business owners.
“Building relationships takes place, but you have to be there,” Lisa said. “And you have to follow up with who you meet and what you learn to get the most out of it.”
Lisa is grateful for the opportunity to share her success with and learn from other women at ChallengeHER. She has also made business connections directly with other participants.
“We are dynamic people. We get things done,” she said. “If it’s something you want, you will work hard to do it.”