Tough Leaf reaches $110 million in projects awarded to diverse firms

POSTED BY: Market Watch | Benzinga | 5th May 2023

Prodigy PressWire via COMTEX - Tough Leaf, a mission-driven platform connecting general contractors and developers with qualified business enterprises owned by minorities, women, veterans and other disadvantaged groups, has announced that it has awarded more than $110 million in projects through its platform, charging nothing to the diverse firms that receive these contracts.

Tough leaf’s AI powered platform provides contractors with a comprehensive list of diverse firms that have been carefully selected from Tough Leaf's extensive database of subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers. Using its powerful search engine, contractors can easily match with firms based on specific job requirements, including certifications, union status, insurance, bonding, revenue, and past project performance. Tough Leaf has taken great care to vet these firms and ensure they possess the necessary qualifications and capabilities to carry out the work. With this innovative platform, Tough Leaf is revolutionizing the way contractors find and partner with diverse firms, helping to create a more equitable and inclusive construction industry for all.

It also provides capacity-building services to diverse firms, helping them access insurance, retirement services, health benefits, tax benefits, and various others. By negotiating group deals on behalf of various smaller diverse firms, it is able to give these firms more negotiating power and get better deals and rates.

The company was founded in 2020 by Wissam Akra. While pursuing his MBA at Columbia University, Akra drew on more than 15 years of experience in the construction industry, having overseen several major projects across the United States. It was during this time that he noticed the significant disadvantages faced by diverse firms, which include those owned or controlled by women, ethnic minorities, veterans and other underserved groups. Coinciding with his observations was the increasing demand at the federal, state, and local levels for greater engagement with such firms, making it necessary to create a platform like Tough Leaf to facilitate this effort.

According to Akra, each project funded by the Federal government has participation requirements for inclusion of diverse firms, as part of the government's initiatives to increase diversity and minority participation in the industry. The same is true at lower levels, with certain states and localities, such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, making it harder to bypass these requirements. This creates a need for general contractors, developers, and project managers to find diverse businesses to fulfill government requirements and obtain projects. Many major private sector employers are also looking to engage with diverse firms, as part of their internal directives to meet ESG objectives.

Moving forward, Akra says Tough Leaf aims to award a total of $1 billion in projects by the end of 2024. It already has projects worth more than $200 million in the pipeline, and more are coming very soon. The company is also looking to grow its database from 90,000 diverse firms to 200,000.

“We currently have the data and the capacity to work in 28 states, operating out of New York and initially covering the New England and East Coast regions. But we have also worked on projects in the South, such as in Louisiana, so we are no longer limited to a particular geographic area in the US anymore. By the end of July, we are expecting to roll out our capability to operate across all 50 states, making us a truly national organization.”

In the roughly three years of its existence, Tough Leaf has grown rapidly, expanding from a 4-person team to a 20-strong team consisting of professionals in the fields of construction, technology, data science, and compliance. ensuring that those working with these diverse firms are familiar with the industry. From an initial single source of data for firms, it now has access to 150 data sources. Tough Leaf continuously refines its database ensuring it is up-to-date, accurate, and data-rich. The company credits its growth to word of mouth, social media, and being present at various industry events, especially those catering to diverse firms in areas such as New York.

Tough Leaf works closely with contractors, providing data on diverse firms but also advising them on requirements, coverage, and bid packages. In addition, the company assists with virtual outreach and electronic record-keeping for compliance support. Tough Leaf is proud to have achieved a 100% success rate in matching contractors with diverse subcontractors.

“We envision our company and the platform to become a one-stop shop for diverse firms. We are creating an ecosystem of support for diverse firms, helping them grow their business by connecting them with project opportunities, capacity-building partners, and other resources, whether provided by us or by others,” Akra says.