November 9, 2022
Leaders at minority-owned and disadvantaged channel partner firms are already seeing the benefits of Juniper Networks’ latest diversity initiative.
Juniper earlier this year unveiled its Diversity+ Partner Program. The group gives enhanced profiles on the Juniper Partner Locator to minority-owned firms. Juniper also provides special executive mentorship to members of those companies.
For Copper River Information Technology, which represents a Native American indigenous community, is seeing the benefits of the new program.
Copper River’s Paul Pfleger
“Being at a small, disadvantaged business does bring some challenges,” Copper River executive vice president Paul Pfleger said. “It’s much easier to go into a customer saying, ‘Hey, I’m Juniper,’ rather than ‘Hey, I’m Copper River.’ Juniper [promoting us] has helped open up new doors that probably wouldn’t have been open to us in the past.”
Copper River belongs to Copper River Management Company, the holding entity for all for-profit businesses the Native Village of Eyak owns. The village is a federally recognized Alaska Native tribe, and it provides guidance to Copper River’s different subsidies. Moreover, Copper River’s income funds different programs in the village. That includes job health and social services, job training, environmental education, and other initiatives that comply with the village’s values and traditions.
Copper River has belonged to the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program since 2006. The program, geared toward small and disadvantaged businesses, gives members rare access to federal and private procurement markets. For example, direct non-Department of Defense contracts of up to $25 million can be awarded to an Alaskan tribal 8(a) entity without justification.
When Copper River IT launched in 2006 as the first Copper River subsidiary, less than 40 people worked for the firm. It mainly performed staff augmentation projects, including engineering work for the federal government. The company started as an 8(a) entity and participated in the nine-year program, in which it received training and technical assistance. Copper River ultimately graduated from the program in 2015.
“We’re still in existence seven years post-graduation, which is pretty unique,” Pfleger said.
Growing with Juniper
Copper River started working with Juniper Networks in 2010. He said his team had been exploring ways to diversity the portfolio, specifically to include network infrastructure.
Pfleger said numerous Cisco resellers inhabit the D.C. area, near Copper River’s Virginia headquarters. But he said he saw an opportunity to build a deep partnership with Juniper.
For one, Juniper’s technology appealed to Copper River IT.
“We saw how they had the most competing product portfolio to Cisco, but they also did it in a much better way with their Junos story back then: one operating system, one upgrade,” Pfleger said.
Copper River started hiring engineers that could support commercial customers. Then it started winning deals in the area of routing/switching with Juniper’s MX series. Pfleger also pointed to acquisitions like security appliance maker NetScreen that bolstered his confidence in Juniper.
“We really saw that we wanted to be a go-to partner for Juniper and really make the investment in them as they were making the investment into us,” he said. “It was a true partnership, rather than ‘What can you sell for me today?'”
And the growth has continued. Pfleger said the acquisition of Mist Systems, a provider of AI-driven wireless LAN offerings.
“That’s really expanded not just on the traditional route/switch/security side, but a whole new kind of product offering. We’re seeing a lot of growth and potential in that market,” he said.
Now Copper River stands at more than 500 employees and $325 million in revenue.
Pfleger said Juniper program manager and executive associate Shawna Jones approached Copper River about a potential diversity program about a year ago.
“I really appreciated the fact that they brought us in early to help understand who we are as a company and what a supplier diversity program could bring,” he said.
Today Copper River also lists Cisco, Aruba/HPE, Palo Alto Networks as strategic partners. However, … … he described Juniper as “on the forefront leading charge” for diversity.
“Juniper is the only one who’s really approached us as part of a program like this to try to support small business and promote small businesses across their partner community,” he said.
The program reflected a larger movement occurring within Juniper, according to Gordon Mackintosh, Juniper group vice president of global channels and virtual sales.
“There’s no point in my team having a diverse culture as part of our strategy if we can’t extend that out into the partner base as well,” Mackintosh told Channel Futures earlier this year.
Jones said about 30 companies belong to the program, with more on the way. They include woman business enterprise MDSi, minority woman-owned business A.A.B.S. and LGBT-owned business Blue Chip Computer Systems.
MDSi’s Lisa McDonald
Lisa McDonald serves as CEO for MDSi, a founding member of the program.
“MDSi recognizes the importance of diversity and believes different ways of thinking drives better innovation and greater success. Our goal as an organization is focused on recruiting and building a culture and diverse supplier pool that champions equality, diverse backgrounds, and supports different perspectives,” McDonald said. “This program is a direct extension of our core values coupled with an opportunity to work with other minority-owned organizations to help our customers and partners better succeed. We could not be more excited to be a part of it all.”
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