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Betsy Clark

 People thought Betsy Clark was crazy to start a construction and engineering company in 2009, in the midst of an economic recession.

But Clark persisted.

She earned certifications from N.C. State University in construction project management, green building and energy technologies before opening the doors to her business, Diamond Water Construction.

Based in Willow Springs, N.C., Diamond Water Construction specializes in general construction, consulting and design-build services. Just weeks after she started the business, Clark received two important projects, including one with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"It was difficult because the banks were not loaning money," Clark said. "They were thinking, 'Here is this Hispanic woman with contracts,' but no one wanted to help. I managed by working with people who gave me materials on 30-day terms."

Clark expanded her network by attending industry conferences and events, such as the Minority Contractors Association and Women's Leadership conferences. That's how she found NCIMED. Clark credits NCIMED's expert and knowledgeable staff with helping her obtain her first unsecured loan and lines of credit, which led to more business opportunities.

Despite these early and hard-won successes, Clark said it is still difficult to get the resources to compete with larger companies. In many cases, government contracts aren't broken down in a way that allows smaller companies to compete. When Clark does come up against a larger company, she may have to train existing staff to do the work, while larger companies have an in-house person with the expertise to do the job.

"The other challenge is being a minority-owned business because in some instances people don't really respect you," Clark said. "They take you for granted. But you have to overlook those issues and keep going because you want to make your company successful."

For Clark, the key is tenacity.

"You have to be focused on what you're doing and do it right," she said. "Only with perseverance can you attain what you want. Also, you have to reach out to organizations like NCIMED because they can help you get opportunities that enhance your experience and education so that you can build your business."

The rewards are worth the sacrifices, Clark said.

"Anything I do, I do for my two daughters," she said. "I want to lead by example in my home and in my business so that other women can know they can do it, too."