Donald Fry: Minority and women business achievers show entrepreneurial spirit

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By Donald C. Fry

What does entrepreneurial spirit look like in Maryland today? The answer can be found in minority and women entrepreneurs in our region and state who, despite challenging economic times, have recognized opportunities, had visions for success and built businesses around them.

On Oct. 23, the Greater Baltimore Committee celebrated more than a dozen such entrepreneurs as winners of the 2012 Bridging the Gap awards for achievement by minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

For instance, there’s Bruce and Theresa Lewis, who in 2004 opened an occupational medical and urgent care center in Edgewood with one walk-in patient, no customer contracts and a motto: “medicine the way it should be … friendly and affordable.” Eight years later, customers of their business, Total Urgent Care, have included Frito-Lay, Rite Aid, Bechtel, McCormick & Company, Upper Chesapeake Health, and Harford County Public Schools, prompting the firm to expand to its current Emmorton Business Park location.

Or consider Shola and Funlayo Alabi, of Columbia, Md., who founded Shea Radiance in 2009 to manufacture and market skin care products crafted from a proprietary blend of unrefined West African shea butter. In 2010, its products were picked up by three major distributors and subsequently began to be noticed by major retailers. Last July, its new line of hair care products was picked up by Target stores.

Then there’s Rohit Patel, who was born in Zimbabwe, Africa. In 1995 Patel started his own technology design and engineering business in Baltimore – Intelect Corporation – with $1,700 in his pocket and a desire to “live the American dream.” Today, his business boasts 90 full-time employees, more than 100 skilled part-time employees, and is on Fortune magazine’s 2012 list of 100 fastest growing urban businesses in America.

These are just a few of this year’s Bridging the Gap Award winners. All are examples of what entrepreneurial vision and drive can accomplish in any economy.

Other winners of the 2012 Bridging the Gap awards are:

A Bright Idea Communications, Bel Air, Md. After starting her career as a public relations specialist at defense industry giant SAIC, Anita A. Brightman founded this award-winning advertising, and public relations firm in 1996. Today the firm’s clients include more than a dozen defense-related agencies and contractors as well as a wide range of retailers, small businesses, and nonprofits.

Calmi Electrical, Baltimore, Md. Since its founding in 1986, this company has evolved into a leading electrical contracting firm, with installation projects including M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. CEO Calvin Mims dedicates himself to minority business development through mentoring initiatives for minority entrepreneurs.

Casey Overseas Corporation, Baltimore, Md. This female-owned freight-forwarding services company has thrived for 33 years in the traditionally-male dominated shipping industry. It was founded in 1979 by Annette Morgan, who nurtured female employees and eventually sold the firm to Melanie Dvorak, a former employee and current owner.

Data Solutions & Technology, Lanham, Md. Founded in 1994 by Deborah Scott Thomas, this company today provides professional services in information technology, aviation management, science and technology as well as logistics, operations and management support. Among the firm’s clients are nearly 20 federal agencies, including four branches of the armed services.

Fyodor Biotechnologies, Baltimore, Md. This company focuses on development of diagnostic and biopharmaceutical products targeted to impacting the way malaria is diagnosed and managed in “frontier” overseas markets. Founded in 2008, the firm grew out of the University of Maryland BioInnovation Center.

Marcorp, Baltimore, Md. For more than 50 years, the March family has grown this multi-generational, minority-owned business from a single location in Baltimore City into the largest independent funeral home operator on the East Coast, with locations in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia.

M. Luis Construction, Clinton, Md. Founded in 1985, this woman-owned and minority-owned road construction company has grown into a multi-disciplined firm offering services including asphalt manufacturing, milling and grinding, paving and maintenance, streetscapes, and snow removal.

Walters Relocations, Baltimore, Md. John Walters started this company in 1988 with one truck and one crew. It has since grown into a fleet of trucks with 35 employees, all from Baltimore City. Customers include BGE, Constellation, Mercy Hospital, Baltimore City government and Baltimore City Public School System.

W. L. Blair Development, Baltimore, Md. The firm was launched in 1995 by Wendy Blair, a former development director at Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, to pursue opportunities as one of Baltimore’s few female urban developers. The firm’s development and management projects now range from an 86-unit townhome development in Bolton Hill to complexes in the Inner Harbor.

Last week the GBC also recognized:

Harkins Builders, Marriottsville, Md. This majority-owned business was honored for its inclusionary business practices. An industry leader in preconstruction and construction management services, Harkins’ business model is geared to supporting and nurturing the development of minority businesses in the construction field. Harkins works to guide small and minority firms in the process of doing business with large general contractors and helps minority businesses with issues including cash flow and bond requirement waivers for emerging businesses. The company has been recognized by the Maryland Washington Minority Contractors Association and the Small Business Administration for its commitment to minority business development.

Goodwill Industries and Baltimore City Community College, Baltimore, Md. Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake and Baltimore City Community College were honored for their partnership that plays a unique and powerful role in preparing urban students for entering the world of private-sector employment. Goodwill partners with BCCC to provide students life-skills training and connects students who have completed the college’s workforce training to minority and majority-owned employers in Baltimore. Partner employers include Crispy Bagel Bakery, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Solo Cup Company, and People 2 People.

Sally MacConnell, Vice President for Facilities, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, Md. Sally MacConnell and Johns Hopkins received a Bridging the Gap President’s Award for strengthening minority business development. MacConnell is a champion of minority-owned and women-owned business participation in major contracting projects at Hopkins. Her efforts have helped Johns Hopkins University and its Health System to achieve a game-changing shift in the way they do business in the community and to provide a roadmap for other large organizations to improve economic inclusion efforts.

The minority and women entrepreneurs honored with Bridging the Gap awards this year are representative of many more highly-driven, 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.

As our economy struggles to emerge from a tenacious recession, 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.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Sailabration showcased Baltimore’s ‘fun’ potential

Are Maryland’s regulatory rankings about substance or process?

Transportation budget process: a tale of backlog and irony

CSX intermodal facility: Mayor, Governor to the rescue

Cyber threat warnings offer scary scenarios

Labor Day violence frames the challenge facing new police commissioner

It’s time to seriously consider maglev in NE rail planning

Building downtown ballpark a defining moment for Baltimore

Employers: workplace skills gap driven by need for IT talent

Businesses must cultivate Baltimore’s youthful talent
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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.