Making it easier for SMEs to tender for government contracts

A range of measures, including the eTenders website, are making it simpler than ever for small and medium businesses to sell to government

Lauren Duggan; Aine Kilkenny and Fiona Parfrey, co-founders, Riley: Riley period products are supplied in some of the leading hospitals and universities across the country after the company successfully tendered for an OGP contract.

Government is keenly aware that the SME and social enterprise sector plays a fundamental role in contributing to economic growth and employment in Ireland. Last year, the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) published a range of measures for public bodies to take in order to promote the participation of SMEs in public procurement. These measures include simplifying the process for lower-value contracts, and improving transparency in competitions. We speak to a number of small businesses and social enterprises about their experiences in selling to government.

Riley is a female-founded Irish business that supplies eco-friendly period products. Riley co-founder Lauren Duggan says the tendering process initially felt a bit daunting but she is now thrilled that Riley period products are supplied in some of the leading hospitals and universities across the country after the company successfully tendered for an OGP contract.

“Accessibility to period care is a core value at Riley. We want to change the way period care is viewed – for us it should be treated similarly to toilet paper, readily available in all public spaces. So when we learned of the OGP’s plan to launch a period equality framework, it was the perfect project for us to tender for,” Duggan said.

High Weighting

“Having little experience in tendering, initially the process felt quite daunting. However, the eTenders website was simple to use and we got very clear guidance on which products and solutions were required and how the points would be awarded accordingly. It is really encouraging to see that the government is putting such a high weighting on promoting smaller suppliers, and even more so green suppliers.”

There are many supports available for small businesses and social enterprises who want to sell to government. InterTradeIreland is a cross-border public body, funded by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland. InterTradeIreland helps small businesses to grow by identifying new sales and sourcing opportunities on the island, and providing information, practical advice and tailored support.

The InterTradeIreland Go-2-Tender programme is designed to give SMEs across Northern Ireland and Ireland the confidence, knowledge and skills to tender successfully for public-sector contracts. Through workshops and mentoring, the programme aims to equip businesses with the know-how to increase their success rates in public-sector tenders. EM Services, an Irish-owned business based in Limerick, is a niche supplier of quality Personal Protective Equipment to industry and state bodies in Ireland and Britain. EM Services completed InterTradeIreland’s Go-2-Tender programme. They then went on to submit their first public sector tender to supply PPE.

EM Services supply PPE including gloves to industry and state bodies in Ireland and the UK.

Success Rate

Barry O’Halloran, director of EM Services, says, “In 2021 we identified a need to seek support in order to improve our success rate with government tenders. In Dec 2021, we participated in InterTrade Ireland’s Go-2-Tender programme and subsequently, we sought some mentoring support from InterTradeIreland.

“We learned the importance of seeking feedback on our scoring when unsuccessful. This helped us to tweak our tender proposals. This was crucial to EM Services winning a large contract, on eTenders, to supply PPE in 2023.

“As a small business, the support of InterTrade Ireland’s mentoring programme was key in enabling us to present our best possible proposal to the contracting entity. We would encourage any SMEs trying to secure government contracts to firstly engage with InterTrade Ireland’s programmes as a brilliant resource to assist their efforts.”

A division of WCDAS Ltd, Datagroup.ie is one of Ireland’s leading social enterprises specialising in delivering ISO 27001:2017 and ISO 9001:2015 certified document scanning, storage, shredding and online data retrieval solutions.

Liz Breen, chief operating officer, Datagroup, tells us why they also decided to attend InterTradeIreland’s Go-To-Tender programme. “Selling to, and servicing the needs of, government entities was a logical step for us, but we felt we required additional support in effectively communicating this throughout our Tender response. The InterTradeIreland Go-To-Tender programme provided us with precisely that support which allowed us to tender successfully for the provision of records management services. We used eTenders and found it straightforward, as there are supports in place to guide the user through the process.”

A previous winner of the Excellence in Providing Total Document Management Solutions within the Public Sector, Datagroup services some of Ireland’s leading indigenous, multinational and state organisations and is committed to corporate social responsibility and social inclusion.

Bounce back recycling provide recycling services diverting waste from landfill.

Nurture Ability

Brendan Ennis, group chief executive, added, “CSR and social advancement are a major element of our inclusion strategy. With the support of Pobal, we have created an even playing field for those within our community – combating disability, marginalisation, and social disadvantage. We nurture ability through social inclusion and are proud to have built a team of professional, dedicated and specialist individuals, 50 per cent of whom overcome physical challenges on a daily basis.”

Green and social considerations are increasingly important in public procurement as government seeks to move towards a circular economy.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) operates as an office of the Department of Justice, and it is responsible for the safe and secure custody, dignity of care and rehabilitation of persons committed to prison. The IPS is responsible for 13 operational prisons across the country.

Where possible, mattresses removed from Irish prisons are sent for recycling, as sending these to landfill would have a significant environmental impact. To combat this, the IPS ran a competition for the removal and recycling of these mattresses.

Two social enterprises were chosen for the contract, which was split on a regional basis: Eco Mattress Recycling, based in Dublin; and Bounce Back Recycling, based in Galway. Under the contract, the mattresses were deconstructed to allow for recycling and repurposing. After deconstructing the mattresses, suitable textiles were shredded to be re-used as carpet underlay or new mattress materials; steel springs were recycled to steel manufacturers; and sponge materials were returned into the circular economy. As well as saving waste from going to landfill, both of the social enterprises chosen under the contract had experience with employing former offenders.

SMEs and social enterprises might be interested to learn that public bodies involved in procuring goods and services separate contracts into lots where possible. Contracts can be divided based on geography, specialism or value, thereby encouraging SMEs and social enterprises to bid on these contracts. Many government contracts have specific social or environmental considerations that align with those of social enterprises around the country, and there is government support available for those that wish to get involved.

Spéire Nua is just one of the activities adopted by Amicitia, a social enterprise in Athenry, which also transformed a derelict building into a social hub for use by different community groups.

Existing Social Enterprises

Pobal manages government and EU funding on behalf of a number of government departments; they work to address disadvantage and run a number of schemes that support social inclusion.

One of these programmes is the KickStart programme, which supports and encourages new and existing social enterprises to create meaningful jobs for people with criminal convictions, as a stepping stone to mainstream employment.

The Spéire Nua (New Horizon) Project founded by Damien Quinn assists people with criminal convictions to access the labour market. Spéire Nua is just one of the activities adopted by Amicitia, a social enterprise in Athenry, which also transformed a derelict building into a social hub for use by different community groups. Amicitia received funding under Pobal’s KickStart programme and went on to successfully tender to provide services to the Irish Prison Services using the national electronic tendering platform, eTenders.

Patrick Mulvill, a founding member of Amicitia, explains why it made sense to sell to Government. “As a social enterprise, we see a natural alignment between the social objectives we aim to achieve and many government policies. The tender to provide services to the Irish Prison Service aligned well with our partnership with Spéire Nua, which has devised a new disclosure model for people with criminal convictions. Securing long-term contracts helps us plan more strategically, move away from a dependence on grant aid, and strengthen the network of partnerships we are nurturing to support our social mission.”

If you’re a small business owner or the founder of a social enterprise, it might be worth your while considering selling to government. Thousands of opportunities to sell to government are posted on the eTenders, Ireland’s national electronic tendering website every year. For more information on eTenders or Irish public-sector procurement opportunities, visit gov.ie/ogp

The government provides a range of tailored supports for enterprise of all sizes in Ireland. See supportingsmes.gov.ie/

This advertorial was sponsored by the Office of Government Procurement, a division of The Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform.