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new places, new faces.

At the 6th Annual B.E. Entrepreneurs Conference, black business owners inked groundbreaking deals while networking the night away in Opryland

EVERY ENTREPRENEUR, NO DOUBT, IS WELL AWARE OF THE economic impact of a slowing economy, and, it is hoped, has made the strategic changes to his business necessary to survive. Yet, despite the downturn in the market, Edward E. Felder Jr., president of Blue Chip Lending Group, a commercial loan and business sales firm in Tampa, Florida, found his first Black Enterprise/Bank of America Entrepreneurs Conference, "Awesome!"

"I made many business contacts," says an enthusiastic Felder, who also rented space at The Exchange: Business to Business Expo, which housed more than 70 exhibitors. "Matt Denkins, a representative from Cendant Properties, the parent company of Winn-gate Inns and other hotel brands, came over to my booth and asked questions about our offerings. We talked about Blue Chip's extensive services, and, by the end of the conversation, Matt referred a client who was looking for financing in the $3 million range. This is a real deal in its beginning stages."

Felder also met with the owner of an Athlete's Foot franchise in Atlanta who was looking to expand into southern Florida. "He came to the booth and explained his expansion plans and his need for financing to the tune of more than $300,000. We played telephone tag for a while after settling back into our respective work environments after the conference, but eventually connected. That deal will close in mid-2002."

An AXA financial planner, Jan Williams, referred Blue Chip's services to two of his clients. One was looking to finance the purchase of 14 Jiffy Lube car centers in the Atlanta region; the other was in need of $500,000 to refinance her business.

Asked whether he will attend the Entrepreneurs Conference in 2002, Felder answered before the sentence could be fully articulated. "Not only will we attend the conference, we will once again exhibit at The Exchange Expo and come even more prepared than we were in 2001." It's difficult to imagine how, with four lucrative deals pending from this conference, Felder measures preparedness!

Not all businesses have been as successful as Felder's. IMotors, a now-defunct direct seller of certified used vehicles formerly headed by Chairman and CEO Lloyd Ward, once employed 600. Factors such as the economy led to the downfall of the company. But Ward delivered a riveting speech, and his optimistic tone left attendees feeling that there was nothing in business so devastating that it could not be survived. "No matter what kind of business you start or career you're in, always remember to lead with a scope of vision, manage with a force of fact, operate at the speed of thought, and walk with elephants--carefully."

Earl G. Graves Sr., publisher of BLACK ENTERPRISE, felt it imperative to remind black business owners that despite economic uncertainties, "we are always in a recession. That means we must always operate in a leaner and meaner fashion."

And we are doing that, according to Milton Jones, vice president of the Bank of America Mid-South. "African Americans contributed $600 billion to the U.S. economy in year 2000" despite the downturn, which corroborates the fact that we are approaching our business affairs and our consumer spending habits in a cautious and informed manner.

The theme of this year's conference, "Leading in a Changing Economy--Innovation, Transformation, and Growth," could not have been more appropriate for the conferees.

Marvin O. Smith, president of the Marketing Exchange, a firm specializing in public relations, advertising, sales training, and fund-raising in Monroe, Louisiana, plans on transforming his fledgling company onto the pages of the BE 100s in the very near future.

Smith came to the conference equipped with an agenda: "I wanted to network," says the young, polished entrepreneur. "I left the cushion of a marketing manager's position at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce that had taken care of me and my family for three and a half years to swim in the turbulent waters of the unknown, otherwise known as entrepreneurship. You see, a lot of people can start a business. The toughest part is staying there."

This straight-shooting Southern gentleman not only attended the conference to network for future deals, he was also looking for an African American supplier of office furniture to complete the decor of his new office.

For that he found Joey Blackwell, president of VDS Office Supply in Atlanta. "I met Joey through a friend, Don McDuffy, the former director of the Minority Business Council of the Greater Shreveport, Louisiana, Chamber of Commerce. We all had dinner one night after the conference sessions and I mentioned that I was looking to newly furnish my office. That night and $10,000 later, I signed a contract with Joey's firm as my office furniture supplier. This is what I mean; this is what it's all about."

Although this was Smith's first time attending the conference, he unequivocally says that it will be a line item annual expense in his events-to-attend budget.

"The conference facilitates business exposure and [provides] a forum that allows for the exchange of ideas and honing the art of networking. It gives you a sense of empowerment," says Smith.

And empowered is how Pearl Ridgley-Hopson felt when she learned of the conference being held in her home state. "I was elated to hear that Black Enterprise was coming to town," says Ridgley-Hopson. "With the conference being held right here in Nashville, it provided me with the opportunity to network with other business owners in my area and to acquire additional knowledge about business partnerships and growth potential."

Ridgley-Hopson is the president of Innovative Business Technologies Inc. (IBTI) in Smyrna, Tennesse a management consulting and training firm. Downsized from IBM in 1994, her first reaction [to her misfortune] was: "`What am I going to do?' Then I realized that maybe this was my chance to do what I'd always envisioned--business ownership. This was truly a blessing in disguise."

Ridgley-Hopson's blessings grew at the conference when she connected with several companies who expressed a desire to do business. "My friend, Regina Burns, president of Harvest Reapers Communications in Dallas, introduced me to Amy Bunton, director of the State of Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Existing Industry Services. Amy then provided me with an introduction to Victor Tyler, program manager at the University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services."

IBTI currently provides training for the university's Center for Government Training. "I'm currently in negotiations to provide training services for Mr. Tyler's department as well. All told, including the contacts made at the Entrepreneurs Conference, IBTI should pick up an additional $150,000 in revenue for 2001."

Ridgley-Hopson says that she was nothing less than thrilled to have seen and participated in a forum where everyone had business ownership and entrepreneurial aspirations in common.

She was also motivated by the speakers--most notably Willie Jolley. "His words of inspiration, `Never do what's comfortable, do what's necessary,' and `Only the ridiculous can achieve the spectacular,' took me to the next level on my entrepreneurial voyage," she said.

Jolley's four steps to success--Vision, Decision, Action, and Desire--caused the conferees to pick up their pens and jot down his sage advice.

Because of the inspiring rhetoric and the contacts she made, Ridgley-Hopson says that her new goal is to encourage all business owners to attend the Entrepreneurs Conference. "It is an event that will give you a definite return on your business and personal investment."

One corporate giant who didn't always see a return on his investment is David Steward, CEO of World Wide Technology Inc. (WWT), No. 1 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICES 100 list with $802 million in sales. "I'd like to tell you that I've been through a lot to get to where I'm standing today," Steward said to the focused assembly. "I've taken my wife of 25 years through about eight or nine companies before enjoying the success of WWT.

"No matter what I've faced, personally or professionally," said Steward, "what keeps me going is a passage from The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. `It's not the strongest or the smartest that survive, but the ones most adaptable to change.'"

And change is what Sandra C. Rozier experienced when she attended the Entrepreneurs Conference for the first time in 1999, when it was held in Orlando, Florida. "I was working as the director of corporate marketing at a health insurance company, a firm that I had been with for 13 years. Although I enjoyed what I did and felt secure in my position, I knew that I wanted another challenge and I asked God to guide me in discovering what that might be."

Rozier, who has been a frequent attendee of the BE/Pepsi Golf & Tennis Challenge, learned of the Entrepreneurs Conference while there. "I really didn't have a set agenda or even a plan for what presentations I would attend and I kind of wandered into the The Exchange Expo hall just viewing all of the interesting booths and opportunities for the black business community." Rozier happened upon the Choice Hotels booth and began talking at length to Wendy Grant, who is in charge of diversity for the 4,500-hotel chain. "Wendy aggressively pursued me because up until that point there were no African American franchisees for the brand and Choice wanted to change that."

Later that night, Rozier attended the VIP reception, where she met Earl G. Graves Sr., who encouraged her to go for it. "I initially told him that I felt God led me to the conference and that maybe I'd found my answer with the hotel industry. Mr. Graves suggested that I speak with some of the BE 100s, share my story, and vigorously pursue my dream."

Today, Rozier, now an annual conference attendee, is president and CEO of Spears Global Marketing and Development L.L.C., a $400,000 marketing firm in Pontiac, Michigan, whose clients include, among others, the very health insurance company she left to realize her entrepreneurial vision and become the first African American woman to own a Quality Suites Hotel & Conference Center, a hotel that has 102 luxury suites and banquet/meeting rooms to accommodate up to 300 people.

"It hasn't been easy," says Rozier. "I had to come back home and raise approximately $3 million to fund the $10 million hotel project. I knew that I believed in myself and that I would never take `no' for an answer. So I set out to see what funds were available through the city and state, and then I tapped friends and family."

Two executives she sought out had companies on the BE lists: Don Coleman, president and CEO of Don Coleman Advertising, No. 1 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list with $270 million in billings, who is a member of Rozier's church, and Anthony Snoddy, CEO of Exemplar Manufacturing Co. in Ypsilanti, Michigan, No. 21 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $165 million in sales.

"I can't say enough about those guys. They believed in me and in what I was trying to accomplish. They, along with countless others, made my dream a reality. I am truly blessed and it all started because of BE."

The conference ended on a high note with the Entrepreneurs Awards Gala Dinner, where African American business owners are celebrated and their achievements recognized at the Small Business Awards ceremony. The keynote speaker for the evening was Congressman Harold E. Ford Jr., Democrat of Tennessee, who assured the attendees that "as our economy changes and grows, Tennessee will emerge as a new market for young, aggressive, and visionary business leaders."

Judging from the more than 1,500 attendees at this year's conference, notwithstanding it has moved into a new home for the next two years, existing businesses looking to grow and new companies waiting to begin can expect to find answers to their capital needs, real prospects for their company's expansion, and the inspiration needed to continue their dreams at the Black Enterprise/ Bank of America Entrepreneurs Conference.

RELATED ARTICLE: contacts and content

tennessee is home to more than 19,000 African American businesses and an overall population of more than 5 million Tennesseans, providing a fertile ground for business start-ups and future success.

Tennessee Gov. Donald Sundquist told the assemblage of corporate heads and entrepreneurs that "profit is a good word in the state of Tennessee." He stressed the growing business diversity in the Volunteer State. "Every kind of business, from automotive to telecommunications, can achieve success and prosper here."

The Minority Business Development Advisory Committee, the Business Engines Program, and the Minority Supplier Development Initiatives are just a few of the programs that Gov. Sundquist mentioned as resources for the African American business owner.

Additional highlights of the Entrepreneurs Conference included a BE bonus session on wealth building, which informed investors about how to invest money in an uncertain market; the traditional golf outing; and the Kidpreneurs Konference, sponsored by Wendy's International, a three-day event packed with information for African American youth between the ages of 4 and 18. Meeting topics included the importance of saving and investing and a talk about building Websites. Entrepreneurs Jimmy "Mac" McNeal, president of Bulldog Bikes, and Omar Wasow, director of, were just a few of the speakers who shared their experiences and business acumen with the group.

The Town Hall Meeting centered on the "Business of Race." Panel participants were candid in their remarks, astute in their observations, and well versed in the topic, which examined the obstacles still facing black entrepreneurs when it comes to capital access and the awarding of contracts, and what African American businessmen and women must do to overcome them. Panelists included Earl G. Graves Sr., chairman and publisher of BLACK ENTERPRISE magazine; Robert Johnson, CEO of BET Holdings II Inc.; Suzanne de Passe, CEO, de Passe Entertainment; Clarence Avant, chairman, Interior Music/Avant Garde Music Publishing; and trial lawyer Willie Gary.

Make plans to network at the 2002 Black Enterprise/Bank of America Entrepreneurs Conference this May 15-19 at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. Call 800-543-6786 for more information.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Black Enterprise/Bank of America Entrepreneurs Conference
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Next Article:paving the way.

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