Do you own a BE?
That’s a “business enterprise,” which sounds redundant only to non-enterprise-y people. Maybe yours is a small business enterprise (SBE), which, according to a top-ranked definition, is “a privately owned corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship that has fewer employees and less annual revenue than a corporation or regular-sized business.” (It seems that where tax policy is concerned, the definition of “small” varies by country and industry and who knows what else.)
Maybe, on the other hand, yours is a woman-owned business (WBE). Or a minority-owned business (MBE). Or a veteran-owned business (VBE). Or a “disability-owned business” (DBE). (Can a disability own a business?)
Now suppose you want to talk about BEs collectively, and you wish to exclude large, majority-, male-, able-bodied, or nonmilitary BEs. You’re searching for an umbrella term.
And now you have one: XBE.
Not the XBE cryptocurrency. Not XBE the Xbox file extension. Not XBE LLC the Chicago-based software company, which is a—nounpile alert!—”horizontal construction optimization solutions provider.”
And no, the X isn’t the Roman numeral X or the “Rated X for adult content” X.
This is the algebraic X: an unknown or undefined variable.
Here’s how the global design firm CannonDesign, which creates “transformational places, plans and strategies that improve life,” uses XBE on its website:
“‘XBE’ encompasses small business enterprises, as well as minority-owned, women-owned, disability-owned, and veteran-owned business enterprises.”
And here’s more about CannonDesign’s Inclusive Partner Program:
Created in partnership with XBE firms across the country, CannonDesign’s Inclusive Partner Program galvanizes people and companies to create mutually beneficial partnerships that deliver more impact across the design industry. It aims to go far beyond typical XBE programs—which are often focused on meeting a client or project-specific requirement—by creating deep-rooted relationships that maximize shared opportunities, foster greater equity, spark genuine collaboration and provide fulfilling experiences for all involved.
CannonDesign is not alone. I found a cluster of XBE programs or directories in Indiana, including those at Indiana University, the city of Indianapolis and the state government. The Diversity Consortium, a management-consulting firm founded in 2020 in Greensboro, North Carolina, “was started to overcome decades of sluggish supplier diversity growth by enhanced visibility to vetted XBEs, incorporating sustainable supplier improvements, and mitigating COVID-19 supplier impact and social justice issues.”
It’s harder to find the origins of XBE (see above: all those non-business-enterprise XBEs). The Indiana files are undated. I did find an August 2016 newsletter from LeChase Construction, headquartered in Rochester, New York, that celebrates “the one-year mark of the LeChase XBE Program launch.” The newsletter gives an expansive definition of XBE:
As a reminder, “XBE” is our shorthand way of referring to various government programs developed to benefit small, socially or economically disadvantaged businesses, such as Minority or Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE), Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses (SDVOB), Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB), etc.
As for pinpointing when the whole “BE” trend got going, that’s only slightly easier. A 1978 publication from the U.S. Department of Energy discusses “small business and minority business enterprise participation in solar energy procurement activity,” and so far I haven’t found anything older. If anyone knows when the “SBE” initialism became commonplace, let me know in a comment.
My thanks to Marjanne Pearson for the CannonDesign info—she said it was the first time she’d seen “XBE” in print. Marjanne also told me about JEDI, an acronym she says architectural firms have been using. It stands for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and it may have originated with the J.E.D.I. Collaborative, which launched in 2019 in Potomac, Maryland.