Determined to stay competitive despite a harsh economic environment and to build businesses that endure, more than 1,400 entrepreneurs, professionals, and others who are dreaming of starting their own ventures attended the Black Enterprise 15th Annual Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo hosted by Exxon Mobil in Atlanta. Attendees listened to several renowned speakers, including best-selling author and motivational dynamo Lisa Nichols; senior pastor of New Birth Ministries and entrepreneur Bishop Eddie L. Long; and fashion designer and businessman extraordinaire Daymond John, creator of the FUBU clothing line.
The conference also featured industry leaders who spoke about global opportunities, the energy industry, business technology, marketing, and financing. Young business talent that we’ve dubbed “Teenpreneurs,” age 13 to 17, learned the basic tenets of entrepreneurship and crafted a viable business plan and jingle.
Black Enterprise celebrated its 40th Anniversary with remarks from Chairman and Publisher Earl G. Graves Sr., who touted the progress of African American business. “When opportunities for African Americans in business were limited by racist exclusion, African American entrepreneurs carved out financial opportunity for themselves,” said Graves.
Among the highlights of the three-day event was the Small Business Awards luncheon hosted by Ariel Investments L.L.C., and the Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch Competition, which awarded $15,000 in cash prizes to those who gave the winning pitches. At the conference, be honored the following small businesses and the entrepreneurs who lead them:
Entrepreneurs compete for $10,000 first prize in elevator pitch competition
The game show–styled Elevator Pitch Competition, one of the prime-time events at the conference, involved 10 entrepreneurs vying for a grand prize of $10,000 by pitching their ideas to a packed audience and panel of judges. The judges were
- Lisa Nichols, motivational speaker and author of two best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul books
- Earl “Butch” Graves Jr., President and CEO of Black Enterprise
- Magnus Greaves, Founder and CEO, TheCASHFLOW, a one-stop resource for advice and financing for new entrepreneurs
What She does: Proposed sports grill franchise of barbecue restaurant
Business model: Dine-in and carryout menu
THE PITCH: “Have you ever tasted a turkey rib? What about a rib tip? Well, we’re providing a healthy alternative to traditional barbecue. While most restaurants fail within the first 18 months, The Original Just Turkey Restaurant has doubled business and opened three stores in less than a year and a half in business. Now we want to open a unique sports bar and grill, one that would offer a leaner, lighter, all-turkey menu and where sports enthusiasts can hang and families can feel welcome. What we want to do is transcend stereotypes of the traditional types of barbecue and provide customers with barbecue they don’t have to feel guilty about after eating because, after all, it’s just turkey.”
Nichols: The idea is very creative. Revolutionary in terms of serving the market like it’s never been served before. [However,] I didn’t quite get what you would use the funds for. What is the growth strategy? And what’s the vision for the next three to five years?
Graves: The idea is clear. We are moving toward a health-conscious society. For people who want their food to taste good but who don’t necessarily want to eat pork, fried [foods], or whatever for a variety of reasons, there is a need.
Greaves: You are doing some really interesting things, but I didn’t quite understand what was happening in the company right now, or what the sales strategy is. People who invest [in an entrepreneur] like to see execution rather than just a pure idea.
Second Place Winner: $3,500
What she does: Clothing line for tall women
Business model: e-commerce, direct to customer, and retail outlets
THE PITCH: “There are more than 22 million tall women in the U.S. who account for $1.2 billion in annual retail sales in tall women’s clothing. Unfortunately, three-quarter sleeves, 33-inch inseam jeans, and crop pants are a part of the wardrobes of most tall women. As a tall woman myself [6 feet, 1 inches], it’s been difficult to find clothing to fit my taller-than-average frame. Clothing for tall women often lacks style and fit, so Height Goddess wants to bring both to the tall women’s clothing market. Currently, we market our products online at HeightGoddess.com as well as in boutiques in Texas and California. We would use the funds to continue to produce our fall 2010 line, to gain brand presence for direct-to-consumer [efforts], and to get into retail boutiques.”
Nichols: You justify why you exist using actual numbers, which is really great because it increases your credibility. I would have liked to know your scalability. Is this going to be to the clothing industry what McDonald’s is to the fast-food industry? Show me where you can potentially go.
Graves: Define tall women for the investor. For example, does that start with those 5 feet, 9 inches or 6 feet? Overall, the idea is sound and I’m glad that you start off telling us why this is a market opportunity. One question we are not certain of: Are you the designer selling your own brand, or are you a businesswoman who has an online or storefront boutique and you receive merchandise from other manufacturers?
Greaves: Why you? Other than being tall, what’s your background in fashion? Did you study design? Did you work with designers? And then, obviously, fashion is notoriously tough to invest in and so I’m wondering if you have any other creative revenue ideas, and a bit more about the financial side of the business revenue model. And I, too, would like to know the definition of tall, so I can better visualize it.
Third Place Winner: $1,500
Bill Ivory Larson
Determined to Succeed
What he does: Web-based weight loss motivation business
Location: Cherry Hill, NJ
Business model: services fees, sponsorship, advertising
THE PITCH: “To tell you about Determined to Succeed, I have statistics to share with you: Nearly one-third of all Americans are obese, and those rates are even higher among African Americans: nearly 37% of men, and nearly 50% of women. Combine that with the growing childhood obesity rate and the need for my weight loss motivation business becomes clear—and that is from my own personal 175-pound weight loss success story. I have successfully launched one-on-one weight loss motivation video sessions via Skype, and in the next 12 to 18 months I’m going to be creating materials for schoolchildren and offering select, low-income families the opportunity to see a nutritionist or a personal trainer and then also offer web-based or text messaging weight loss motivation and tips. Quite simply, $10,000 will help save lives.
Nichols: Your data was clear. Then you go on to share your personal story, which basically says: “I’m qualified to do this work.” As an investor, that’s what I am listening for. The one thing I would’ve liked to hear is, “And by doing this, we plan to capture 2% of the obesity market over the next three years which translates to X amount of people,” so now I’d see the growth opportunity.
Graves: Your presentation is clear and concise. And [while] you have a very catchy name for the business, tell us what Determined to Succeed will actually do. I’d like to understand the application better.
Magnus Greaves: The way you made it personal, the evidence is right there in front of us, which is fantastic. In terms of doing a presentation in 60 seconds, you really nailed it. From a business point of view, I would hope that looking at the website or the interface would match the presentation that you gave—if so, you’re really on to something.
Additional reporting by Tennille M. Robinson
Small Business Award Winners
BE NEXT AWARD
Ascension Aircraft • Augusta, GA
At only 26 years of age, Jamail Larkins is already a veteran in the aviation industry. He took his first flying lesson at the age of 12; by the time he was 16, Larkins was selling flight training manuals and brokering aircraft deals.
Today the young mogul-in-the-making runs an $8.4 million business that offers aircraft leasing, management, acquisitions, sales, and brokering services to universities, flight schools, corporations, and small to midsize companies across the country. Larkins represents a new generation of risk takers and dealmakers and offers a shining example of achievement to youth pursuing careers in aviation.
INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR
Amos Winbush III
CyberSynchs L.L.C. • New York
The Innovator of the Year Award is given to a business that is flourishing in an innovative industry or approaching business/entrepreneurship in a groundbreaking manner via its products and/or services.
The need to create backup files is one of those life lessons we all learn the hard way. Amos Winbush III learned it after losing his files when his smart phone crashed. Unable to find a solution, he created one. In 2008 he founded CyberSynchs L.L.C., a company that synchronizes content including contacts, voice mail messages, text messages, photos, videos, notes, even ringtones—for companies and individual users.
CyberSynchs currently supports 98% of all mobile devices, so it’s not surprising that its users are expected to number 12 million-plus by year-end. Last year the company posted revenues of $2 million; Winbush projects that 2010 revenues will exceed $4 million because of inked deals with Sun Microsystems (now an Oracle partnership), Samsung, and Microsoft BizSpark. An intrepid entrepreneur, Winbush didn’t let the tough economic times stop him from creating tomorrow’s next big thing.
SMALL BUSINESS OF THE YEAR
Frank Kendrick & Timothy B. Jackson
NuJak Cos. • Lakeland, FL
Historically, African American participation has been limited in the construction industry, but CEO Frank Kendrick set out to succeed nonetheless. In 1992 he founded NuJak Cos., Florida’s fastest growing African American construction management and contracting business.
NuJak has implemented extensive technology enhancement strategies and partnered with other businesses to pull in lucrative contracts. The company is currently working on a building designed by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava at the University of South Florida Polytechnic. In 2009, NuJak posted revenues of $10 million and projects revenues for 2010 to reach $12 million to $13 million.
Crumbs by Gabrielle • DeSoto, TX
Running her own business has been a sweet success for 18-year-old Gabrielle McBay. McBay started her company in 2006 to offer an assortment of cookies and other baked goods to local clients and customers, but she has since expanded the business and filled orders from California, Maryland, and New York.
This past year the company generated $5,000 in revenues, doubling its 2008 figures. McBay plans to attend college in the fall, where she’ll study business and marketing with a specialization in entrepreneurship.
COMMUNITY CHAMPION AWARD
The Community Champion Award recognizes individuals who are working to promote volunteerism, business development, minority empowerment, education, wealth preservation, and leadership in their hometowns.
Xernona Clayton is a history maker whose influence extends far beyond her own community. As founder, president, and CEO of Trumpet Awards Foundation Inc. and creator and executive producer of the Trumpet Awards, Clayton has tirelessly supported African American achievement and fought against injustice.
In 1967, she became the South’s first African American to have her own prime-time television show, The Xernona Clayton Show on WAGA-TV in Atlanta.
Clayton served as a corporate executive for Turner Broadcasting System Inc. for nearly 30 years. In 1988, she was appointed corporate vice president for Urban Affairs at Turner, becoming one of its highest ranking female employees. In this role she served as a liaison between Turner Broadcasting and civic groups in Atlanta and across the country.
In recognition of Clayton’s contributions to broadcasting, the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists annually awards the Xernona Clayton Scholarship to an outstanding minority high school student pursuing a career in communications. Additionally, Clayton provides an opportunity for the student to spend time with a European family, all expenses paid. The Xernona Clayton Scholarship is dedicated to increasing open relationships internationally.