Startups Find School District Procurement a Challenging Puzzle
At some point in the life cycle of an ed-tech startup, the company will have to face the daunting process of school district procurement. Put simply, in this process a school system advertises that it wants to buy a product or service. Then, vendors submit proposals outlining the product or service that matches the advertisement. Lastly, the district evaluates the proposals and selects vendors to be awarded the right to deliver the product or service and get paid for it.
So how does one win a contract via the procurement process? The short answer, I don't entirely know because EdConnective just started applying. However, I will tell you what I do know: Accessing the procurement advertisements, also known as request for proposals (RFPs), is either painstakingly difficult or relatively costly. RFPs can be unreasonably long and tedious, or short and sweet. Responding to RFPs with a decent proposal is much easier with assistance.
Ok, so how does one find out that a school district wants to buy something? Well, it depends.
Each school district in the nation has a different way of going about it. Some schools and districts advertise through craigslist and online newspapers. Some RFPs are listed in obscure sections of a district website. Sometimes a vendor has to be registered on a statewide online procurement portal that sends notifications to users who have signed up.
An education company can use the "Google it!" approach and spend countless hours searching for RFPs that a search engine produces, but that method is woefully slow, overwhelming, and inefficient. For one, school districts use the procurement process to acquire everything from catering, to disc jockeys for school dances, and professional development. Also, you can search one school system for procurement opportunities related to your venture and find nothing today, but tomorrow something new will be posted. However, by tomorrow you might be searching a new set of school systems. The time it would take to keep an eye on all RFPs across the nation is mind boggling and frankly, a waste of time for an education company. The solution, albeit a bit costly, is an online service like RFP School Watch that actively monitors procurement portals across the nation and selectively sends a company RFPs, on a weekly basis, based on criteria that the company submits.
So after all this research, relevant RFPs are now popping up in my company inbox, five to eight a week. Of those five to eight, maybe one RFP closely matches the service we provide. The next aspect of this process that catches my attention is the sheer size of the RFP document. Weighing in at about 35 pages of questions, forms, and requirements, RFPs can be daunting to approach. Truly, some of them resemble grant applications more than anything else. This is the table of contents for one RFP:
Keep in mind, this table of contents only describe the instructions and requirements for writing a proposal in response to this document, meaning the packet that must be sent in will probably be even longer. Nonetheless, not all RFPs are built this way. Some requests for proposals that I've seen, primarily from charter schools or individual schools, have only been three pages long!
Given how gnarly RFPs can be, in their discovery and with the complicated written response that is necessary to complete them, our move at EdConnective is to get some help responding to them. In this vein, we are looking for educators with experience successfully responding to RFPs with proposals that have been awarded with a contract. Doing so will mitigate errors and greatly reduce the burden that the RFP process can represent.
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