The Winner’s Circle

Perseverance, determination, and resilience are attributes that entrepreneurs have had to wear as armor to get through this year and last. Our 2009 Small Business Award winners are no exception. Refusing to allow the economy’s turmoil to deter their ambitions, this prized group–announced at the black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo, hosted by General Motors and ExxonMobil in Detroit–bested their competitors by seeking innovation, streamlining strategies, and, above all, refusing stagnation.

Add to those qualities the commitment and compassion shown by our Community Champion Award recipient to help the underserved and you have award winners deserving of praise. But while we applaud their determination in the midst of chaos, we’d be remiss if we did not ask, “‘How’d you do it?’” To that end, be’s 2009 Small Business Award winners and Community Champion Award recipient delve into the challenges overcome, reveal the motivation behind their efforts, provide guidance on how they surpassed expectations, and share lessons about winning in spite of the new business reality.

Teenpreneur Award Winner

Jordan Culpepper, Founder/CEO
Buttons by Jordan
Hazel Crest, IL

Promotional buttons and badges manufacturer

Homework Helps
Before starting his business, Culpepper did two things:
1] Made sure it would be feasible
2] Identified markets to sell to

Unlike his peers who rely on allowances for spending money, 13-year-old Jordan Culpepper started a business instead. In 2006, he borrowed $500 from his parents (which he paid back) and launched Buttons By Jordan ( to sell customized promotional buttons.

His first and biggest client remains author and television host Tavis Smiley, who last year ordered 5,000 buttons to distribute at his State of the Black Union national conference. In addition to political functions, celebrations, and school activities, Culpepper also sells buttons to businesses for advertising and other purposes. Last year, gross revenues were $15,000.

By now it’s clear that Culpepper isn’t the typical eighth grader. When faced with a slowdown in customers, he lowered prices and offered discounts to friends and family. “I realized everyone’s money is tight, and some have to worry about food instead of buttons.” And he admits that his youth often gets him in the door, but it doesn’t make the sale. “Most people say it’s a cute business, because I’m a kid. But once they see the product and clients I’ve sold to, they take me seriously.”

Culpepper is looking ahead to high school and eventually college, where he plans to study the sciences. When he started, his goal was making money; today, Culpepper is more focused on helping people express themselves. “My business ties into customers’ personal feelings,” he says. “I help them wear a button for all to see.”

–Tamara E. Holmes

The Teenpreneur Award recognizes a young entrepreneur or group, age 19 or younger, committed to advancing the rich tradition of black business achievement.