Small Business Awards Winners

Black Enterprise honors the best of the best

Innovator of the Year: Groups4 Labs Inc.

The Innovator of the Year Award is given to a business flourishing in an innovative industry or approaching business/entrepreneurship in a groundbreaking manner via their products and/or services.

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Felix Ejeckam

Many people would call starting a business a risky proposition, but for Felix Ejeckam, co-founder of Group4Labs Inc., a Menlo Park, California-based company that builds energy-efficient diamond-based semiconductors for wireless products, becoming an entrepreneur was in his blood.

“You don’t have that sense of it being risky if your parents were already doing things like that,” Ejeckam explains. His father was a founder of Fidelity Bank PLC in Lagos, Nigeria, back in 1988, “and they’re now one of the largest banks in the region,” Ejeckam says.

After earning a master’s and doctorate in electrical engineering from Cornell University, Ejeckam, 38, worked for global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, “with the full knowledge that I would leave shortly to start a company,” he says.

He made good on that plan in 2003 when Group4Labs was born. Clients immediately bought into the idea, with funding coming from corporate and government clients such as the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. The company also received grants ranging from $100,000 to $750,000 through the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Innovation Research Program, which rewards businesses with grants for innovative business ideas. In 2008, the 12-person firm had revenues of $1.25 million, and while Ejeckam dues not rule out raising money through venture capital in the future, he credits the company’s ability to grow organically as a testament to its strong business model. “The nature of our growth has been entirely about money made the old-fashioned way,” he says.

Why is Group4Labs the best company in its field?

We have amazingly talented people. Everyone in the company is the best in the world at what they do. We’re extremely selective about who we hire. As a result, our turnover is almost nil. That’s something I think that helps us.

Do you have any words of advice for people who are also thinking about starting businesses?

Know what your customers want. Make sure your revenues are higher than your costs and define your objectives as clearly and as early as possible and don’t waver from it.

What can Black Enterprise readers learn from you?

The importance of perseverance – sticking to it. You’ve got to hang in there. Don’t be drowned by other people’s dogma but be a very good listener.

What recent challenges have you faced and how did they tackle them?

We were trying to decide on which one of two product ideas to exclusively focus on in the company. Developing both technologies at the same time was too expensive, inefficient, and unsustainable for a very tiny startup of five. We elected to undertake the arduous process of a six-month long due diligence process. Essentially, we needed to step back and re-build the core elements of our business plan. Along the way, we found out that [one idea] lacked one key ingredient that the other did have: a sustainable cash-flow positive business model for a small company. We elected to leave that product idea for another larger company that might find a self-sustainable business model. Had we not invested in the strategic planning process early on, we would have learned some very expensive lessons rather late.

Group4Labs Inc.
Type of Business: Semiconductor manufacturer
Co-Founder/CEO: Felix Ejeckam
Location: Menlo Park, CA
www.group4labs.com

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  • Annette Culpepper

    Jordan,

    Congratulations!! We are so proud of you and look forward to many more accomplishments from you.

    Love,

    Annette C.

  • Nadine Smith

    DUUUUUUUUUDE! Ms. Smith is so proud of you. I am tellin EVERYBODY to look at what my AWESOME student has accomplished. YOU DO YOU!!! Keep goin man…keep goin! No limitations…well unless yo momma says so.

    Luv You
    Ms. Smith

  • Dad

    Okay I’m dad ..but it still counts, I am very proud of you :0)

  • Tammi and Brian Lloyd

    Jordan! Jordan! Jordan! We can’t stop smiling b/c we’re too excited and proud of YOU! Here’s a virtual HIGH FIVE and a HUGE hug – WE LOVE YOU! Congratulations!
    Aunt-T and Uncle B

  • A.Asbury

    Congratulations Jordan! I am so proud of you. Keep up the good work. I’ve already spread the word and will be placing my order soon.

    Love Ya!
    “Auntie” Freda

  • ron parker

    Jordon, we are very proud of your honor as Teen Entrepreneur. Your creativity and tenacity is a model for all young and old business leaders.
    All the best. Tell your mother “hello” for me.
    Ron Parker
    SVP, PepsiCo

  • http://www.kidsontracktravelclub.com Ms. Stephie

    Jordan,

    Congratulations, I am so very proud of you. I will be sharing this with the young people in my family. You are an encouragement to everyone. Don’t forget I am your other Auntie. Love ya!

  • http://www.kidsontracktravelclub.com Ms. Stephie

    Jordan,

    Congratulations, I am so very proud of you. I will be sharing this with the young people in my family. You are an encouragement to everyone. Don’t forgt I am your other Auntie. Love ya!

    Aunt Stephie

  • Rochelle Simmons

    WOW! Jordan, this is sooooooo awesome! I am too proud of you. Way to go!
    Ms. Rochelle

  • http://blackenterprise.com Betsy Culpepper

    Jordan, I am so proud of you. You are an example to young people everywhere. You are inspiration to me as well as others. Congratulations on your business and your well deserved award.

    Betsy Culpepper (cousin)

  • Denise (Arizona)

    Hi Jordan,

    I’m not one bit surprised at what you have accomplished. Not only are you intelligent but you are a go-getter and having those two qualities will take you far beyond anything you can imagine. I can’t see anything stopping you. Now, back to reality…… I’m still waiting for a Wii Tennis re-match. Lol…..Congratulations!!!!

    Denise Collins (Arizona)

  • http://www.thephillipscompany.com Teri Sgambelluri

    Hello Valerie,
    We are honored to be employed by the best of the best! You inspire us all….congratulations!
    Teri and staff

  • Talika

    Jordan,

    I wish you the best in your business. Congratulations on being named the 2009 Teenpreneur of the Year!

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