Donald Fry: Entrepreneurs provide inspiration in a recession

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By Donald C. Fry

Looking for inspiration as you continue to grapple with the current tenacious recession and the daily business challenges that it brings with it?

Look no farther than 14 businesses –- mostly small –- that were honored by the Greater Baltimore Committee this week. The winners of the GBC’s 2010 Bridging the Gap awards for outstanding achievement as minority-owned or women-owned businesses set compelling examples of entrepreneurship and the level of dedication that are prerequisites for business success any time, much less in 2010.

The crystal vases and plaques that the winners carried away from the October 13 awards event are nice, but they are only tokens of the inestimable value of the examples set by their stories.

There’s Kimberly Brown, a graduate of Baltimore’s Polytechnic Institute who obtained her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at the University of Maryland College Park and, in 2007, purchased the contract she had been working on as an intern employee at a local biotech company. She then founded her own biotech services firm, Amethyst Technologies, which has become one of the fastest-growing tenants at UMBC’s incubator. It now has 22 employees and annual revenues of $1.8 million.

Barb Clapp nine years ago fulfilled a life-long dream when she founded her own advertising agency in Lutherville. Since then, her boutique-sized, woman-owned and women-driven agency has converted an organizational can-do spirit, customer service with a personal touch, and a penchant for over-delivering on promises into a flourishing business in a highly-competitive field dominated by larger firms.

Then there’s the Murthy Law firm located in Owings Mills. Its founder and president, Sheela Murthy, began her career as a French teacher in Bangalore, India. After immigrating to the United States, she graduated from Harvard Law School and worked for seven years as an attorney with law firms in New York and Baltimore, before launching her own firm in 1974. It has since grown into one of the world’s most recognized immigration law firms, with 74 employees.

These are just a few examples of success that is being experienced by vision-driven entrepreneurs, recession or no recession.

Other winners of the 2010 Bridging the Gap awards for minority-owned and women-owned achievement are:

• Harris Jones & Malone, whose founder, Lisa Harris Jones, in 2000 became the first African-American woman in Maryland to open her own lobbying firm. Her Baltimore firm is now highly-rated among Maryland lobbying firms, despite employing a much smaller staff than many of her primary competitors.

• Legacy Builders and Construction Services, Inc., a Baltimore firm that was founded two-and-a-half years ago by Kinya Stewart and her husband, Jimmy. The couple decided to start their own contracting business drawing on their experience gained from working for local contractors and developers. As a result of their superior management and business practices, the Stewarts have since built their business from scratch into a multi-million dollar venture.

• P-B Health Home Care Agency, founded in 1994 by Jackie Bailey, a young nurse who was involved in a county program to serve the elderly, saw a great need for providing home-based health care to a substantially-underserved population -- the Baltimore region’s senior citizens. Her Baltimore-based agency, which started with four employees, has grown to 135 employees and revenue of $6 million.

• Special Gathering, LLC, a Baltimore special events business that was founded by Danielle Johnson, who used the skills and knowledge she acquired as an administrative assistant at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Her company has thrived because of its ability to deliver – regardless of size or budget – compelling, quality events ranging from philanthropic meetings and private gatherings to film screenings.

• Trans Time Express, a 22-year-old courier business based in Laurel and Silver Spring, and its principal Mona Toosi, sets a standard of service in a highly competitive business where minutes count. Toosi and her firm always rise to the occasion, say executives at MedStar Health, for which the firm transports life-saving medical specimens and lab results. Last winter, Trans Time Express was an essential part of MedStar’s emergency team and accomplished critical MedStar deliveries in the midst of the record snowstorms that crippled the region’s highways.

• BITHGROUP Technologies, Inc. founder and CEO Robert L. Wallace received a President’s Award for dedicating himself to passing on to the next generation the business knowledge he acquired in building a successful information technology and management consulting firm. Wallace grew up in Baltimore’s Cherry Hill neighborhood and vigorously pursued a quality education, earning degrees in engineering and business administration. He now heads a firm that lists a who’s who of major corporations – including IBM, Toyota, HP, and the NFL – among its clients.

• Wachovia Bank received an award for its role as a majority-owned business that demonstrates outstanding inclusive business practices. Small business owners cited Andrew Bertamini, Wachovia’s regional president, as an example of a banker who is a tireless advocate for minority and women business owners. He has consistently gone above and beyond the routine banking framework to assist with activities ranging from financial literacy training to individually mentoring small business owners, advocates say.

• A strategic partnership between Mercy Hospital, Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, Maryland Washington Minority Contractors’ Association, and Congressman Elijah Cummings received an award for their proactive efforts to achieve substantial participation of minority-owned and women-owned vendors in the construction of Mercy’s new 670,000 square-foot facility in Baltimore. As a result, more than 50 minority and women-owned vendors who participated in the construction of the new hospital have so far earned more than $41 million in revenue from the project.

These award winners were honored for minority business achievement and dedication to strengthening the development of the minority and women-owned business sector. But they are representative of many more highly driven and successful business entrepreneurs that are living, breathing examples of the kind of private-sector achievement that drives our economy and will drive it through to the other side of the recession.

In this election season, there is plenty of talk about what’s wrong with our state and nation. Candidates across Maryland are creatively and repeatedly tossing at voters –- and each other –- a litany of hyperbolized and often conflicting fiscal, economic, and government weaknesses as they vie for the opportunity to try to fix things from various elected offices.

But these entrepreneurs who were honored this week, and the tens of thousands like them, have found ways to succeed, be it a recession or not. In doing so, they teach us valuable lessons that are worth savoring about what is right with Main Street Maryland and America.

As our state and nation remains engulfed in the election-driven self-examination about our system of government and our way of life, it sometimes takes someone from somewhere else to give us a fresh dose of perspective about where we live.

Listen to what Sheela Murthy, the Bridging the Gap winner and renowned immigration lawyer who herself immigrated to the U.S. from India in the mid-1980s, recently told Smart CEO magazine. “The wonderful thing about this country is that it provides incredible opportunities for those who are willing to work hard to partake of the American dream,” she says. “We are so blessed that, in our work each day, we can help others to achieve that dream.”

You can’t say it much better than that.

Whatever our shortcomings in Maryland and our nation, we’re clearly still a land of opportunity.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Previous Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Military is driving Maryland’s anticipated biggest economic spurt in 60 years

MedImmune CEO frames bright future for bioscience

Making transportation a top-tier priority

Primary voters in a mood for transition

Reading Maryland's fiscal tea leaves

Getting beyond sound bites and bumper stickers

Biotech tax credit more popular than ever, but the ‘rock-concert’ lines are gone

Bad timing for upcoming business tax report

For economic indicators, the ‘whipsaw’ effect continues

Do census data foretell a Baltimore city population rebound?

Remember the value of business after the election

New report ranks Baltimore among stronger regions to weather the recession

New living wage proposal: wrong idea, wrong time for Baltimore

Northeast needs more attention from federal rail planners

New national report has familiar ring for Maryland bioscience advocates

New report underscores Maryland’s work force development challenges

State’s health initiative: a ‘win-win’ for employers and their workforces

As Baltimore hikes taxes, are state’s counties next?

After the ‘fiber from heaven’ scramble, what’s next?

BRAC growth no longer a future event – it’s happening now

Economic development is a contact sport

Despite the recession, bioscience growth still percolates in Baltimore

State stumbles in enacting new education collective bargaining process

Wind power has potential in Maryland, but solar emerges as early renewable option

It's not good to be clueless in cyberspace

Amid fiscal shuffle, Maryland lawmakers pass measures to spur business growth

Thankfully, Baltimore leads with substance over style in luring Google

Leave damaging transportation provisions out of the budget

Amended budget continues recession-induced fund shifts and stimulus rescue

General Assembly setting stage for combined reporting push in 2011

Wrong timing for proposal to change Baltimore City school board

Baltimore City isn’t alone in facing pension funding challenges

A government investment program that delivers

Proposed transportation fund raid -- a bad habit continues

Where's the outrage over crime?

Small business is where innovation lives
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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.

Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.

Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.

Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.

Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.