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The Fitzgeralds are among many black entrepreneurs turning to an incubator to ensure their success

It has been said that small businesses are the engine of the American economy. But these entities need to be nurtured to grow and thrive. Designed to assist with that growth are small business incubators. These outfits are funded by government agencies or private organizations-usually both-and help new companies operate during the crucial early stages of development. This may entail working with entrepreneurs to devise business plans; design marketing strategies; furnish office space; provide professional services; and, most importantly, secure financing.

Della Clark, president of The Enterprise Center, a minority business incubator located in West Philadelphia, says small businesses can get two main benefits from an incubator: “a place-based strategy (low-cost space) and hand holding (consulting).”

She explains, “Most clients think of an incubator as a low-cost way to start a business, but that is not necessarily true.” Clark points out that today you can start a home-based business with a computer, multifunctional copier, printer, scanner, fax, and high-speed Internet for about $2,500. This is cheaper than going to an incubator. In fact, Clark says home-based businesses that are growing fast make the best incubator clients because they come with established sales revenues. TEC works primarily with minority entrepreneurs and looks for businesses with strong leadership. For small businesses with established revenues, incubators can help get them to the next level, a great example of Declaration of Financial Empowerment principle No 8: to support the creation and growth of profitable, competitive black-owned enterprises.

David and Chioma Fitzgerald took advantage of TEC after opening their card and gift shop 16 years ago. Unable to move enough merchandise to pay rent, the couple set up a booth at a local flea market. The Fitzgeralds found it more cost-effective to rent a table and space for $15 for a weekend rather than paying $700 a month for a storefront. “We started to advertise in the local paper in affluent neighborhoods to buy out their attics and garages so we could acquire merchandise,” says Chioma, 41. “That’s what led us into the antiques and collectibles arena.” The husband-and-wife team went from peddling small gift items at flea markets to selling high-end wares at antique shows. “At one time, we were doing 40 antique shows a year,” says David, 41, a certified auctioneer.

Today, the couple runs Philadelphia-based Palmer Estate Liquidators L.L.C., a full-service estate liquidation company that purchases household contents and resells them via eBay, traditional auctions, and retail venues including consignment stores. Chioma, formerly an administrator with the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, says the couple bids from $1,000 to $15,000 on estate items that must be liquidated due to a family death or divorce. “When we acquire an entire estate it might mean everything from the flatware in the china cabinet to the armoire in the bedroom to the vehicle in the garage.” The business has three full-time employees and revenues of $320,000 in 2005. The couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Danielle, helps to package goods during the summer months and weekends.

Initially, the

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