New Places New Faces

At the 6th Annual B.E. Entrepreneurs Conference, black business owners inked groundbreaking deals while networking the night away in Opryland

downturn, which corroborates the fact that we are approaching our business affairs and our consumer spending habits in a cautious and informed manner.

The theme of this year’s conference, “Leading in a Changing Economy–Innovation, Transformation, and Growth,” could not have been more appropriate for the conferees.

Marvin O. Smith, president of the Marketing Exchange, a firm specializing in public relations, advertising, sales training, and fund-raising in Monroe, Louisiana, plans on transforming his fledgling company onto the pages of the BE 100S in the very near future.

Smith came to the conference equipped with an agenda:”I wanted to network,” says the young, polished entrepreneur. “I left the cushion of a marketing manager’s position at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce that had taken care of me and my family for three and a half years to swim in the turbulent waters of the unknown, otherwise known as entrepreneurship. You see, a lot of people can start a business. The toughest part is staying there.”

This straight-shooting Southern gentleman not only attended the conference to network for future deals, he was also looking for an African American supplier of office furniture to complete the d├ęcor of his new office.

For that he found Joey Blackwell, president of VDS Office Supply in Atlanta. “I met Joey through a friend, Don McDuffy, the former director of the Minority Business Council of the Greater Shreveport, Louisiana, Chamber of Commerce. We all had dinner one night after the conference sessions and I mentioned that I was looking to newly furnish my office. That night and $10,000 later, I signed a contract with Joey’s firm as my office furniture supplier. This is what I mean; this is what it’s all about.”

Although this was Smith’s first time attending the conference, he unequivocally says that it will be a line item annual expense in his events-to-attend budget.

“The conference facilitates business exposure and [provides] a forum that allows for the exchange of ideas and honing the art of networking. It gives you a sense of empowerment,” says Smith.

And empowered is how Pearl Ridgley-Hopson felt when she learned of the conference being held in her home state. “I was elated to hear that Black Enterprise was coming to town,” says Ridgley-Hopson. “With the conference being held right here in Nashville, it provided me with the opportunity to network with other business owners in my area and to acquire additional knowledge about business partnerships and growth potential.”

Ridgley-Hopson is the president of Innovative Business Technologies Inc. (IBTI) in Smyrna, Tennessee, a management consulting and training firm. Downsized from IBM in 1994, her first reaction [to her misfortune] was: “‘What am I going to do?’ Then I realized that maybe this was my chance to do what I’d always envisioned–business ownership. This was truly a blessing in disguise.”

Ridgley-Hopson’s blessings grew at the conference when she connected with several companies who expressed a desire to do business. “My friend, Regina Burns, president of Harvest Reapers Communications in Dallas, introduced me to Amy Bunton, director of the State of Tennessee Department

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