Head Of The Class

The best and brightest entrepreneurs are growing despite sluggish times

It’s that time of year again. The editors of BLACK ENTERPRISE have identified 12 companies that rank among the top guns of small business. The CEOs of these firms have managed to soar through increased sales and superior customer service in a year when terrorism, war, recession, and tough-as-nails competition caused legions of other firms to crash and burn. The candidates for the BE Small Business Awards were selected from the following categories: Emerging Company of the Year, Business Innovator of the Year, Rising Star, and Kidpreneurs.

The nominees are an exceptionable lot, running the gamut from a charter jet service and an environmental clean-up firm to a bakery and Internet firm run by young people. What these firms demonstrate4individually and collectively4is the ingenuity and diversity of black business during the most challenging of times.

The winners will be revealed at the seventh annual Black Enterprise/ Microsoft Entrepreneurs Conference to be held May 15-19 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tennessee. Titled “New Ideas, New Solutions: Strategies for Reinventing Your Business,” the event gives business owners a chance to identify capital sources, find vending opportunities, and, of course, network. It will also give thousands of attendees a chance to meet this year’s nominees4a group that can provide valuable lessons for entrepreneurs large and small.

EMERGING COMPANY OF THE YEAR
This award recognizes businesses that are poised for future growth because they’ve carved out a special niche for their business or have adopted creative marketing techniques. The nominees are:
Kwame Building Group Inc.
TYPE OF BUSINESS Construction management
PRESIDENT Anthony Thompson
LOCATION St. Louis, MO
For years, Anthony Thompson was disappointed by the paucity of African American construction managers. In 1991, he decided to do something about it. That year, he launched Kwame Building Group by gaining a $50,000 loan from a local bank and applying sweat and hustle. His first job was renovating the chapel in a local funeral home.

Over the past decade, Thompson, 41, has built the concern into an $8.5 million operation that employs 91 workers. His assignments these days include participation in the $3 billion St. Louis International Airport expansion and an $80 million convention center construction project in Shreveport, Louisiana. Gaining help from local black business owners to establish his business, Thompson’s philosophy has been “it takes a village to start a business.”
Montgomery Jet Center
TYPE OF BUSINESS Charter plane service
PRESIDENT Ronald Mays
LOCATION Montgomery, AL
Ronald Mays is flying high. His company, Montgomery Jet Center, in Montgomery, Alabama, has developed an impressive roster of clients, including Bishop T.D. Jakes, superstar attorney Johnnie Cochran, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The 38-year-old pilot launched the concern in 2000 with his wife, Marion, who is senior vice president, to fulfill his dream of becoming one of the first African Americans to own a full-service aviation firm. He initially sought to service ministers, and snared his first client, Jakes, by persuading a local aviation firm to let him borrow one of its planes.

In 2001, he grossed $3 million in revenues. Mays’ company has grown to four planes and 13

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