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Above the rest: our Small Business Awards winners reap the rewards of passion and perseverance.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS and achieve personal wealth? The answer lies within our 2007 Small Business Awards winners, celebrated earlier this year at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo hosted by General Motors and held at the Wait Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

To determine who best exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit, BE's editors surveyed a selection of small businesses from around the country. Whether working in an expansive manufacturing plant or from the comfort of their own homes, our winners are an impressive group of individuals, each of whom took risks and overcame fear. From a teenager whose product has helped simplify the lives of children to a woman who has triumphed in the competitive film industry, this year's winners are an inspiration to their peers as well as the next generation of business owners.

In the following pages, these entrepreneurs discuss their zeal and initial uncertainty and their overriding determination to start their small businesses.

Emerging Company of the Year Roxbury Technology Beth Williams

"Working to be socially and environmentally responsible as well as building a sustainable business is the most rewarding aspect of Roxbury," says President and CEO Beth Williams. Working with outside consultants to help develop growth initiatives as well as green solutions, Williams is determined to keep Roxbury at the forefront in those two arenas. The Emerging Company of the Year Award recognizes businesses that nave poised themselves for future growth by carving out a special business niche or by adopting creative marketing techniques.

Founded in Boston by Williams' father, the late Archie Williams, in 1994, Roxbury Technology ( produces remanufactured toner cartridges for printers and fax machines. Williams admits that being placed at the helm after her father's death was initially very difficult, but "I felt proud to take over his legacy and compelled, because I truly believed in his vision for the company," she says.

Williams, 43, plans to further enhance her dad's vision by expanding the company and making it a full-service, environmentally friendly imaging solutions and recycling business. Williams foresees Roxbury as, ideally a one-stop shop for clients such as Staples Northeastern University, and Simmons College Partners Health, among others. Last year the company generated $11 million in revenues, and Williams projects $12 million to $14 million for 2007.

Roxbury currently employs 40 workers (two work part time), but by the end of the year Williams plans to add 10 new positions in the administrative, managerial, and production areas.

Williams' first instinct is to give back to the community by hiring some of its residents. "[My father] always believed in economic development within the inner city," says Williams. Striving to uphold Roxbury's mission, she continues to seek ways to help. "How can I be a vehicle of success to others?" she asks. "How can I make a difference while making a profit?"

Innovator of the Year HopStop Chinedu Echeruo

"How do you cost-effectively spread the word?" Chinedu Echeruo asked himself when he founded HopStop. "How do you tell the world, 'This is my site and I think it would be of value to you'?" Echeruo wonders no longer. Garnering 1.1 million visitors each month, ( offers real-time door-to-door subway, bus, and walking directions in five cities. New York (including the Metro area: Westchester, Long Island, and parts of New Jersey); Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. The Business Innovator of the Year Award recognizes companies that have set trends and broken new ground in a particular industry.

"[In the beginning], I was uncertain," recalls the 34-year-old Harvard Business School graduate. "But I received strong responses that this would be a service consumers would like." Before founding HopStop, Echeruo worked in finance. But the lack of easily accessible public transportation directions led him to become not only an entrepreneur but also a problem-solver.

"I was driven more by a desire to solve a problem that was very clear to me," he says. Before HopStop, most people navigated their way by relying on Websites that provide driving directions, but that approach was ineffective in Cities like New York. with extensive public transportation systems, says Echeruo. He adds, "HopStop was one venture that had promise in terms of usage and need."

Echeruo began by researching the transit system and figuring out how to collect all the information in a manageable way. "I was translating the problems directly to the software developers," he says. "I had to streamline the process and make it efficient."

In 2006, the company saw revenues push toward $5 million. Later this year, public transportation directions for Baltimore and Seattle will be added to the site. Also, Echeruo recently launched, a site that connects travelers with specialized travel agents. But for HopStop, Echeruo has four employees focusing on technology and marketing, while he focuses on product development and business strategy. He says, "The ultimate goal is to build a viable company that solves real problems."

Rising Star Award Duly Noted Inc. Effie T. Brown

"It came about when I was a production assistant," says Effie T. Brown about how she chose her company's name. "I had to pick up cigarette butts." That experience helped Brown duty note that everything starts at the bottom and works up. The Rising Star Award recognizes individuals, age 21-35, whose outstanding skills, professionalism, and perseverance distinguish them as future business leaders.

It's been a long rise to the top for Brown, 35, whose independently owned production company, Duly Noted Inc. (, produced movies such as Real Women Have Curves and in the Cut. Earlier this year, Brown began raising funds for her next film and recently received her first financial investment; she'll use it to produce Bury Pie Standing, a drama starring veteran actress Alfre Woodard and rapper-actor Mos Def.

But in the meantime, Brown is celebrating the worldwide premiere of her film Rocket Science, the first of eight films she'll produce through her Los Angeles-based company. The movie tells the story of a boy with a speech impediment who joins the debate team to impress a fellow classmate.

Following the release of Rocket Science, Brown anticipates revenues of $6 million by the end of 2007. "The gestation period for a film is anywhere from three to five years when you include the casting, shooting, editing, and delivery," says Brown. "It's so rewarding to actually see the finished product.

Brown WORKS with crews of up to 100 during busy production periods but maintains a core staff of five. Being at the helm of net own company is a long way from picking up discarded cigarettes; however Brown says she is determined to treat everyone the same because "The decisions you make at the top affect everybody."

Teenpreneur Award Cotrac Co. Joel Williams Jr.

"I'm doing something positive for the African American community, something no one has done before," exclaims Joel Williams Jr. on why he loves being a trailblazer. The Teenpreneur Award recognizes entrepreneurs under the age of 18 who serve as role models and are committed to advancing the rich tradition of black business achievement.

At age 13, Joel Williams Jr. is the president and CEO of the Cotrac Co., the parent company of SmartButton ( When pressed, SmartButton tells children which shoe is for the left or right foot. Manufactured overseas, SmartButton is distributed from the Williams' home-based business in Troy, Texas.

Williams wanted to be more actively involved in his patented idea, from design to implementation. So he learned the instructional lines in French and German in order to lend his voice to the SmartButtons being produced in foreign languages, a response to increasing customer demand for languages other than English and Spanish. Over the past six months, sales have increased by 45%, and Williams is confident that the company will triple its 2006 sales totals of $30,000. With the company's growing success, he expects to hire additional employees by year-end to work alongside his current staff of two, his mom and dad.

Of course, the eighth grader is just as serious about his schoolwork as he is about his business. But how does he balance it all? "I basically work with the company every other day," reveals Williams. "So I do two days of schoolwork on Monday and Wednesday and then company stuff on Tuesday and Thursday. And when I'm really busy, my dad helps out also."

This summer, Williams focused on researching and developing new products to add to the Cotrac Co. He says he enjoys contributing to the development of young children, adding, "It feels really good to help out."

For more information on the Small Business Awards or to nominate a business or entrepreneur, go to
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Author:Young, Stephanie
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Aug 1, 2007
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