Small Business, Big Ambition

This year's nominees got up and running with more than a little drive

$150,000, and his brand can be found in New York, Europe, and Japan. His clientele includes celebrities, supermodels, and shoe enthusiasts worldwide. He currently has a staff of 10, and customers will be able to find his brand in high-end retailers across the country later this year. But Evans, whose company made $845,000 last year, is not interested in just selling you a shoe. He’s interested in giving you a top-to-bottom customer service experience, complete with caviar, champagne, and a foot massage.
In 1998, Evans also founded Solesville-The Etu Evans Foundation, a nonprofit organization that collects used shoes and repairs them for young people entering the work world.

Brides Noir, TYPE OF BUSINESS: Magazine publishing, FOUNDERS: Dana Powell and Shannon Bonner, LOCATION: Chicago
Magazine publishing is one of the most challenging entrepreneurial endeavors. Startup costs can be exorbitant, it’s difficult to get agencies to place advertising in an unproven publication, and even after you have a complete magazine, you have to get people to read it.
This is why the successful launch of Brides Noir, a bridal magazine for African American women, is something to be celebrated. The magazine’s creators, 29-year-old Editor-in-Chief Dana Powell and 32-year-old Managing Editor Shannon Bonner, met at Illinois State University where Powell was working toward a degree in mass communication and Bonner was a graduate student working toward a master’s in marketing communication.
The idea for the magazine was a seed planted in Powell by her father. She was 16 and had been searching magazines for prom dresses. When she remarked to her father that she couldn’t find any magazines featuring African American models, he suggested that she create one.
After they graduated, Powell and Bonner started Brides Noir with $80,000 in personal assets and loans from family and friends and $20,000 in award money from the Miller Brewing Co. They printed 15,000 test copies of the 116-page premiere in 2002 and found a distributor for the magazine the following year. Brides Noir currently has a circulation of 50,000, is audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and grossed $350,000 in revenues last year.
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Three Keys Music, TYPE OF BUSINESS: Independent record label, FOUNDER Marcus Johnson, LOCATION: Silver Spring, MD
Marcus Johnson had dreamed of being in the music industry ever since he was a little boy. And while a lot of people just dream, Johnson made his dream a reality through education and preparation. He founded independent record label Three Keys Music in 2002 with $3,000. His first project: producing and releasing the premiere recording of an ambitious, talented pianist who had studied music since the age of 6 — himself. A year later, he procured $100,000 in loans to grow his label and landed $3 million in investment capital from Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television.
One could say that Johnson, 33, had been preparing for his entrepreneurial venture his whole life. A summer internship at record label MCA while he was in graduate school afforded him the opportunity to learn how a record label was run. He met BET founder

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