Entrepreneurs Conference: Celebrating Small Businesses Revved Up for Growth

B.E.’s 2013 small business award nominees know what it takes to develop a vision into a scalable enterprise

Winners ot the black enterprise small business awardsEvery business venture starts with a vision. But it takes the right plan and momentum for one to cultivate that vision and eventually grow small enterprises into sizeable entities. Here are the finalists of our annual Small Business Awards. Now in its 18th year, the Black Enterprise Small Business Awards highlight entrepreneurs that demonstrate the tenacity and strategic thinking needed to thrive in the midst of entrepreneurial adversity. This year a new category has been added to the mix: Franchise Owner of the Year. This addition reflects the growing opportunities for minorities in franchising, especially for professionals choosing second careers. The winners of the Small Business Awards will be announced at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo, hosted by Nationwide, on May 15–18 in Columbus, Ohio.


This award is given to a business that is flourishing in an innovative industry or approaching entrepreneurship in a groundbreaking manner via their products or services.

MetaLayer Inc.

Jonathan Gosier, Co-Founder, CEO & Product Director; Matthew Griffiths, Co-Founder, Director of Platform


Type of Business: Cloud-based Data Visualization Software Developer


In a world increasingly reliant on data analytics, MetaLayer’s applications make information easier to understand, visualize, and share. Jonathan D. Gosier, 31, and his business partner Matthew Griffiths, founded the company in 2011 with the goal of helping non-technical users. MetaLayer takes complex data analysis that is traditionally performed by data scientists and reduces it to a couple of drag-and-drop mouse clicks on a screen. The company offers big data solutions to government and enterprise customers in areas of public safety, intelligence, disaster response, and law enforcement. Gosier projects revenues of $500,000 for 2013. MetaLayer generated a little less than $250,000 in 2012.

Pathbrite Inc.

Heather Hiles, CEO & Founder

San Francisco

Type of Business: Online Portfolio Platform Developer


Hiles founded Pathbrite in 2012 and is the developer of its e-portfolio platform, which helps students collect, track, and showcase their achievements. Each account is private; students can own and include in their portfolios what are known as digital artifacts: test scores, transcripts, examples of schoolwork. Stored in the cloud, the online portfolios can follow students from elementary school to high school to college and throughout their careers. E-portfolios can be shown to school admissions officers and prospective employers. Pathbrite is the only e-portfolio platform in the market providing electronic copies of students’ ACT test scores.  5 colleges and universities are currently using Pathbrite.

Uncharted Play Inc.

Jessica O. Matthews, Co-Founder & CEO

Julia Silverman, Co-Founder & Chief Social Officer

New York

Type of Business: Social Enterprise Developing Products That Combine Play and Technology


Matthews, 25, is a co-founder of Uncharted Play and co-developer of Soccket, a portable generator in the form of a size 5 soccer ball. Its internal mechanism takes the kinetic energy from rolling the ball around and stores it. A single-bulb LED lamp can be plugged into the ball to provide hours of light. Soccket is used in rural, off-grid areas of Latin America, Africa, and the U.S., and the company has plans to expand its use worldwide. Uncharted Play is developing another product called the Ludo, a “smart ball” which tracks playing time and converts it into points (using an internal motion sensor). The points are used by consumers in the developed world to donate items to communities in need. Founded in 2011, Uncharted Play reached $1.5 million in revenues in 2012, and in 2013 revenues are projected to double.


This award is presented to a family-operated business that exemplifies the combined experience and expertise needed to excel in a key industry.

Johnson Security Bureau Inc.

Jessica Johnson, President; Charles Johnson Jr., Co-owner

Bronx, New York

Type of Business: Patrol and Protective Services Company


Johnson Security Bureau is a third-generation family-owned armed and unarmed security firm. After their father died in 2008, Jessica and Charles Johnson Jr. were left with the question of whether to make payroll or close the doors. They decided to keep the business and improve it, and since then have hired more than 50 new employees. Jessica, the company’s president and majority owner, has inked around 15 new contracts that expanded business operations to New Jersey. Corporations and financial institutions entrust the safety of thousands of their people and billions of their dollars in assets to JSB, a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses 2010 program. JSB’s 2012 revenues reached $2 million and are projected to exceed $2.5 million for 2013.

Abtron Associates Corp.

Robert A. Green, CEO & President; Roosevelt Green, Director of Field Operations

Bay Shore, New York

Type of Business: Environmental Contracting and Management Company


Abtron is an environmental construction company specializing in providing advanced remedial services in the asbestos, lead, mold, and hazardous material abatement and demolition industry. Robert runs the business alongside his brother who has been with him from the beginning. Abtron’s 2012 revenues exceeded $3 million. Clients have included the Dormitory Authority State of New York, Entenmann’s Bakery, and Barnard College. To support its mission and efforts toward growth, Abtron secured a $100,000 grant from the city of New York to, among other things, train unskilled and displaced inner city residents. Robert was part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business cohort that graduated in January 2012.

JDT Concierge

David W. Thornton, President; Jennifer Thornton, VP Operations

Columbus, Ohio

Type of Business: Transportation and Concierge Services


Thornton started Columbus-based JDT Concierge in 2003 as a one-man operation from his home. Today, the company is a full-service transportation and concierge services provider for private and corporate clients. Its services include medical transport, road trips to college campuses, and chauffeur services. David’s wife, Jennifer, joined the company in 2008 as a partner, and the couple moved the company to an office suite near Port Columbus International Airport. Throughout the recession, JDT maintained its staff level and even added staff, which now numbers 11. Clients include corporate executives, government agencies, social service organizations, and healthcare providers. Revenues reached $450,000 in 2010, $575,000 in 2011, and $630,000 in 2012.


This award is presented to a franchisee for outstanding performance and overall contribution in enhancing the growth and development of the franchising industry.

Lenny’s Sub Shop

Edith Kelly-Green, Multi-unit Franchise Owner

Memphis, Tennessee

Type of Business: Philadelphia-style sub and Sandwich Dhop


Kelly-Green is a business owner, a breast cancer survivor, and the largest multi-unit franchise owner of Lenny’s Sub Shop, a Philadelphia-style sub shop that’s based in Memphis but is expanding across the country. Over a period of six years, Kelly-Green acquired 10 Lenny’s Sub Shops in Memphis and in Oxford, Mississippi. Her shops average annual sales revenues of between $300,000 and $1.2 million. She runs her stores—two of which consistently rank in the top 5% of all Lenny’s Sub Shop locations across the country—with her two sons, James Kelly and Ryan Green. Before transitioning to franchising in 2005, Kelly-Green had retired as the first African American female vice president and chief sourcing officer for FedEx Express in 2003 after more than 20 years with the company.

Anago of Washington, D.C.

Darren Williams, Master Franchisee, Owner & Regional Director

Washington, D.C.

Type of Business: Commercial and Residential Cleaning


Williams is a master franchisee with Anago of Washington, D.C. In this capacity, he oversees 54 franchisees that employ roughly 150 people combined. Williams’s sales team finds cleaning contracts for Anago franchisees he recruits to the area. Clients include multi-tenant office buildings, sports stadiums, and bowling alleys in the nation’s capital. Williams’s franchise was the official cleaning service of the 2012 Citi Open (formerly the Legg Mason Tennis Classic). He also counts Jenny Craig, Amtrak, and the embassies of Saudi Arabia and Tunisia as clients. Williams’s units posted revenues of nearly $2.5 million in 2012 and projects revenues of around $3 million for 2013.

Mr. Handyman

Skip Wyatt and Lorenzo Wyatt, Co-owners

Fairfield, Connecticut

Type of Business: HomeRepair and Maintenance


Lorenzo, 42, and his father, Skip, 61, joined forces to run a Mr. Handyman franchise (taking over the business from Skip’s son-in-law). Mr. Handyman is an industry leader in home repairs and maintenance. Lorenzo developed an approach for the company that focuses on two aspects of home energy: diagnostics and upgrades. This new development led to an increase in hiring: The franchise has gone from three employees to more than 30. The Wyatts are members of Mr. Handyman’s Million Dollar Club. The business reached $1 million in sales for five consecutive years and broke the $2 million market in 2012—the first Mr. Handyman franchisee to do so.


This award recognizes entrepreneurs, age 19 or under, committed to the tradition of black business achievement.

Maya’s Ideas

Maya Penn, CEO

Canton, Georgia

Type of Business: Online Boutique Selling Eco-friendly Garments and accessories


Maya’s Ideas is an online boutique that sells eco-friendly garments and accessories designed by Penn and sold to customers around the globe. An artist, animator, illustrator, and writer, she originally set up her business at the age of 8, when she sold her creations through the online craft store Etsy in 2007. Now 13, Maya donates 10% of the profits from her business to charities, including Hosea Feed the Hungry, the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Captain Planet Foundation, and Live Thrive Atlanta. She also created the nonprofit Maya’s Ideas 4 the Planet, which strives to help the community by spreading environmental awareness and encouraging young girls to follow their dreams in non-traditional fields. Maya’s Ideas generated combined revenues of around $34,000 for 2011 and 2012.

Jewelz of Jordan

Gabrielle Williams, CEO

Upper Marlboro, Maryland

Type of Business: Fashion Jewelry Designer and Retailer


Williams began creating jewelry at the age of 7, after watching an instructional video on YouTube. Founded in 2009, her home-based jewelry company, Jewelz of Jordan, sells beautiful fashion jewelry with a focus on mother-daughter matching jewelry. At age 11, Gabrielle wrote a book, The Making of a Young Entrepreneur: The Kid’s Guide to Developing the Mind-set for Success. By that time she was a sought-after motivational speaker on entrepreneurship and the importance of pursuing one’s dreams.  Today, the 13-year-old CEO focuses on making fashion jewelry with semi-precious gemstones, freshwater pearls, and Swarovski crystals. In 2012, Jewelz of Jordan generated nearly $13,000 in revenues.

Shy-Way Essentials

Jesse Council, CEO; Joziah Council, President

Midland, Pennsylvania

Type of Business: Skin Cream for Arthritis Sufferers


Joziah, 14, and Jesse, 17, collaborated on developing a soothing ointment for people who have arthritis, sore muscles, or sprains. They trained with a local herbalist to come up with the ingredients for Soothing Balm (formerly J&J’s Healing Cream), an all-natural ointment made from 10 herbs, essential oils, beeswax, and extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil. Now available online, the cream is sold through the brothers’ website, which they also use to provide updates about their product and their business. The Council brothers are also experimenting with other products to add to their line. The teen business generated revenues for 2011 (their second year in business) of about $900, and of about $4,000 for 2012.