Alternating Current

Yolanda M. Mitchell always thought she was different. When Mitchell was a teenager in Buffalo, New York, her friends had typical interests like fashion and music, but “I had an affinity for electrical technology,” she says with a laugh. Inspired by an uncle who was an electrician, Mitchell took classes in electrical engineering at a technical high school just for fun.

Fast-forward to 2002, Mitchell jolted her passion into profit by launching FYM Logic Inc. (; 315-575-1523) a Syracuse, New York-based electrical contracting company that employs four and provides such services as inside wiring and light installation. The business generated $500,000 in revenues in 2009, and by continuing a strategy of partnering with general contractors and networking at industry events, Mitchell predicts a steady 3% growth to $515,000 for 2010. “I’m probably the only woman that’s in electrical contracting in my city and/or county,” says Mitchell, who maneuvers confidently within the male-dominated $130 billion electrical construction industry.

Virtually all facets of the construction industry are dominated by men. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make up only 1% of electricians and 7.7% of electrical and electronic engineers. Mitchell says that this reality only fuels her mission to grow FYM Logic. Of course, the company experienced growing pains along the way.

The idea for FYM Logic came about when Mitchell heard through community organizations that new opportunities were opening up for minority contractors. “I was a young mother, so I wanted to have control of my time while creating a vehicle for wealth creation,” she recalls. So she combined her entrepreneurial spirit with about $10,000 in savings (to secure equipment, materials, and have a payroll cushion for hired contractors) and started the company out of her home, focusing on electrical work for residential projects.

By the end of 2005, Mitchell realized she was leaving money on the table. By focusing on residential jobs (which paid anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000), she was missing out on the much more lucrative commercial contracts that could generate millions. But the transition wasn’t that simple since, she says, no one wanted to take a chance on her. “Even though on staff I had 40 to 50 years’ worth of experience working in the commercial industry, FYM Logic Inc. had not done commercial projects so commercial clients were a little apprehensive.”

Mitchell decided to make a personal appeal to potential clients. “Networking and face-time is huge because people get to know who you are and what you’re capable of,” she says. The 37-year-old got to work getting certified as a minority and woman-owned business enterprise (MWBE) and serves on the board of Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, a group affiliated with Syracuse University.

Eventually her efforts paid off. A contact she made confided that Syracuse sought minority- and women-owned contractors for specific projects. FYM Logic followed up on the lead and mid-year 2006, it secured a $25,000 project installing lighting fixtures in one of the university’s facilities. Though the job was small, it was experience Mitchell could add to FYM Logic’s résumé. The company began landing other commercial clients including the Syracuse City School District and automotive parts manufacturer Johnson Controls Inc. based in Glendale, Wisconsin.

FYM Logic’s commercial client base was bolstered even further because of Mitchell’s efforts to strategically align with other contracting firms needing a minority- or woman-owned partner to go after those contracts that have minority contracting requirements. The result: Approximately 90% of FYM Logic’s business is now commercial. In growing the business for 2010 and beyond, Mitchell is set to expand to areas outside of upstate New York. “We want to continue the track we’re on,” she says. “We’re always looking to expand our market.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.