Donald Fry: Entrepreneurial spirit shines in minority business sector

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By Donald C. Fry 

Want some inspiration?  Looking for evidence that the American dream is still alive and well in the Baltimore region?

It can be found in many places. But last night, we found it alive and well among the minority and women entrepreneurs in our region who, despite challenging economic times, have recognized opportunities, had visions for success and built businesses around them.

The Greater Baltimore Committee celebrated more than a dozen such entrepreneurs as winners of the 2013 Bridging the Gap awards for achievement by minority-owned and women-owned businesses during ceremonies in Baltimore.

For instance, there is Rohit Patel, who was born in Zimbabwe, but came to Baltimore and founded a technology design and engineering firm in 1995 with $1,700 and a desire to “live the American dream.”

Patell’s company – Intelect Corporation – now has 80 employees, offers comprehensive technical services and telecommunications infrastructure services to government, the transportation sector and other private-sector industries, and is on the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing list.

There are the three former economic developers whoin 2010 founded PointClickSwitch, to help commercial and residential customers understand the benefits of energy deregulation, reduce monthly utility bills and navigate the world of energy choice.

Today, the Baltimore-based company is one of only three minority-owned energy brokerage firms in the United States and has built an impressive client list, including Merritt Properties, Fairfield Inn, and Morgan State University, Towson University and the University of Maryland College Park.

Then there’s Brian Meshkin, son of an immigrant from Pakistan who, along wife Catherine, founded Proove Biosciences, Inc. in the midst of the Great Recession. They developed, among other things, a one-of-a-kind genetic test to identify patients pre-disposed to the risk of pain medication misuse.

After a few years dedicated to research and development, the Meshkins put their business model into action and built their Howard County-based firm into a commercial market leader advancing the concept of personalized medicine in pain management. The company’s insurance billings are projected to exceed $50 million in 2013.

These are just a few of the Bridging the Gap Award winners the GBC honored last night. All are examples of what entrepreneurial vision and drive can accomplish in any economy.

Others honored for business achievement, inclusive business practices and successful partnerships were:

* ACL Computers and Software, Inc., Marriottsville, Md. Led by CEO Julie Lisle, ACL Computers has, for the past 20 years, provided high-quality, rapid service to its customers, including Lockheed Martin and the National Science Foundation. ACL has distinguished itself by demonstrating an extraordinary ability to find what customers need at competitive prices and to deliver them on time.

* Axiom Engineering Design, Columbia, Md. After amassing more than 25 years of experience in civil engineering, land planning and project management, Peggy White founded Axiom. In just five years, Axiom has grown to 20 employees and has taken on major projects such as Maryland Live! And Aberdeen Proving Grounds Medical Research Building and the Baltimore Zoo’s African Aviaries.

* Baltimore Window Factory.  Baltimore Window Factory celebrates its 30th anniversary this year under CEO Pat Stout, who has successfully led her woman-owned company in the male-dominated custom manufacturing industry through difficult moments in recent construction history, including the housing bust. She says she is driven by working for, and with, quality people. Her business motto is straightforward: be competent and trustworthy.

* BottomLine Growth Strategies, Inc., Towson, Md.  BottomLine, as well as being women-owned, is committed to the success of minority and women-owned businesses. Since founding the firm in 2007, CEO Carol Coughlin has brought her finance industry experience and insight to smaller companies and creatively "bridged the gap" for many of her clients. Recently, her firm expanded its offerings to include a “Board of Mentors” to assist companies experiencing significant growth.

* Daytner Construction Co., Baltimore, Md. This company’s CEO Theresa Alfaro Daytner carved a niche for herself and her company by excelling as a resilient entrepreneur in a difficult business for women, let alone Hispanic women. After 11 years as a business consultant and tax practitioner, she founded Daytner Construction in January 2003 and grew the business into a national commercial construction management and general contracting firm that is ranked on the INC 500.

* Bon Secours Health System, Inc., Marriottsville, Md.,   Bon Secours Health System, which serves 10 communities in six states, in 2010 created a three-year plan to strengthen its supplier relationships with minority-, veteran- and women-owned businesses. Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, located in West Baltimore, was one of the first local systems to rise to the challenge. In its first year, Bon Secours Baltimore increased its annual amount of purchases from minority, veteran and women-owned suppliers by $500,000 and added 30 new MWBE suppliers.

* TargetGov and bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park, Baltimore, Md. were honored for a partnership that created the Government Contracting Institute, a series of courses designed to help businesses at all experience levels gain success in the federal government marketplace. The partnership has provided more than $70,000 in financial assistance to cyber incubator companies to attend the Institute, including minority- and women-owned start-ups. TargetGov, a women-owned small business, has helped clients win federal contracts worth billions of dollars. Its president, Gloria Larkin, has gained national attention for business development, growth and her advocacy for, and support of, women business owners.

The GBC also conferred Bridging the Gap President’s Awards to two leaders – one from the private sector and another from the public sector – for demonstrating vigorous and consistent efforts to nurture the development of minority-owned and women-owned businesses:

* Stephanie Hill, Lockheed Martin IS&GS-Civil. UnderStephanie Hill’sguidance, Lockheed Civil annually awards more than $225 million to small, minority-owned businesses and more than $250 million to small, women-owned businesses. Lockheed Civil’s supplier diversity program is driven by a recognition that small business suppliers in all diversity categories are a critical national resource and are essential to the company’s ability to deliver products and services. Hill looks for key opportunities to advance supplier diversity. For example, Lockheed Civil deploys technology to increase small and minority supplier access to the company’s procurement professionals, including use of webinar technology to train small companies on how to do business with Lockheed Martin, a dedicated supplier diversity Twitter account and a supplier diversity web site.

* Senator Verna Jones-Rodwell. Jones-Rodwell has championed the development of minority, women-owned and small businesses throughout her 13 years in the Maryland General Assembly. She was instrumental in reforming the state’s minority business enterprise system and expanding procurement opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses. She champions legislative initiatives to nurture minority business development and works closely with hospitals and independent university associations to increase the use of minority suppliers at large private institutions that receive state funding. Currently, Senator Jones-Rodwell is working closely with the Maryland Hospital Association on their Women and Minority-Owned Business Initiative to strengthen hospital use of minority suppliers.

The minority and women entrepreneurs honored with Bridging the Gap awards this year are representative of many more successful entrepreneurs in our region who exemplify the kind of ground-level, vision-driven small business growth that ultimately propels our economy.

The majority-business supporters and advocates of minority and women-owned business development honored by the GBC also represent a larger business community in our region and state that recognizes the broad economic value of embracing diversity as a core business practice.

These entrepreneurs and advocates offer compelling illustrations that opportunity continues to exist for those who would seize it.

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

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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.