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The Latest News in Economic Development

The Institute Uses IBM Impact Grant for Strategic Planning

Farad comments at strategic planning meeting

The leadership team of The Institute reaffirmed its commitment to be the premier organization for the development of diverse businesses by engaging in a strategic planning initiative, thanks to the assistance of an IBM Impact Grant. The grant will allow The Institute to plan its overall mission and objectives for 2015 in order to better serve diverse businesses through quality programs and services.

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The Institute – New Direction, Same Commitment

After nearly 30 years of active engagement, leadership, and proven success in advancing minority business and wealth creation, The Institute of Economic Development has much to be proud of and many successes to herald. In alignment with a constant rate of change and progress, The Institute is also transforming and preparing for the next set of challenges that will arise on the path to economic parity. As an organization, The Institute is renewing its commitment to be the voice and advocate for economic development within the minority business community. Every successful organization innovates to stay on the leading edge of trends, opportunities, and ideas that will lead to success in a rapidly changing business landscape, and The Institute is no different in that regard.

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Diversity Explosion Author to Speak at Conference

Dr. William H. Frey, author of the new book, DIVERSITY EXPLOSION - How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America, will speak at the 2015 Executive Networking Conference. As described by the Brookings Institution, "At its optimistic best, America has embraced its identify as the world's melting pot. Today it is on the cusp of becoming a country with no racial majority, and new minorities are poised to exert a profound impact on the US economy. He finds that without these expanding groups, America could face a bleak future: this new generation of young minorities is infusing our aging labor force with viability and innovation.

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LaPronda Spann, Lain Consulting LLC

It was a case of the "horrible bosses" that spurred LaPronda Spann in 2012 to finally turn her side gig into a successful, full-time consulting firm.

During the eight years prior, Spann worked full-time in the nonprofit hospital sector in Winston-Salem and Charlotte while helping a few nonprofit clients write grants, after a friend suggested in 2004 she get a business license.

"He saw value in the company," Spann said. "I didn't take it seriously."

But all that changed when she began working in a new section of the hospital for a new boss. It took about eight months for Spann to realize the arrangement just wasn't working.

"It was the best blessing," Spann said. "At that point, I just wanted to manage my own schedule and do what I was good at."

In October 2012, Spann made the jump to operate Lain Consulting LLC full-time. The Charlotte-based firm provides consultation, technical assistance and services to nonprofits, municipal agencies, corporations and small businesses. Her services include organizational capacity building, strategic planning, professional development and management training and education, program and project management, fundraising and monthly technical assistance and support.

Within a week of dedicating herself to the business full-time, Spann had her first contract and within two months she had a contract that replaced her monthly salary. Since then, Lain Consulting has been responsible for the successful procurement of more than $1.2 million in grants and contracts from public and private foundations, local government for the company, as well as local and regional clients.

Spann also earned certifications as a Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise in the city of Charlotte's Small Business Inclusion program and the Historically Underutilized Business certification through North Carolina's Statewide Uniform Certification Program. These credentials helped open the door to government contracts. Spann teamed with a former procurement coordinator who taught at a local community college and was an expert on federal procurement. Together, the duo sought and won a contract with the city of Charlotte.

"In public health, everything is about collaboration and partnerships," Spann explained. "You maximize your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses by pulling in someone who has strengths you lack. I knew how to write grants, but I did not understand how to respond to invitations for bids."
Despite Spann's early and continued success, she realized there were a lot of things she didn't know as an entrepreneur. In 2013, she met Briles Johnson, director of NCIMED's Women's Business Center of North Carolina, at a networking event that helped women entrepreneurs develop their 30-second pitches.

"One of my biggest challenges was putting systems and infrastructure in place for my business," Spann said. "I knew something was missing, but I didn't know what it was. In addition, Briles helped me better understand what success looks like for an entrepreneur, especially one who is starting out."

Spann credits Johnson and the Women's Business Center with teaching her how to target the right client and offer the right services at the right price. As a result, Spann's revenues increased by $17,000 in a short period of time.
In addition, Spann shares her "time, treasures and talent" with others by employing special populations, such as the disabled and unemployed, to help with clerical and administrative work. While working in corporate America, Spann said she had an opportunity to work with a nonprofit mental health organization and saw first-hand what it meant to offer others a hand up.

"They will work hard for you," Spann said. "They just want a chance. I understand what it means to be productive in a way that not only impacts your life, but others around you."


Betsy Clark, Diamond Water Construction

 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."

Core Technology Corp. and the Importance of Ownership

Geoff Foster understands the value of ownership.

He designed a part for Ford Motor Co. in 1999 while working as an engineer in corporate America. He received a plaque from the U.S. Patent Office for his efforts. The company for which he worked made $31 million.

That experience led Foster to start Core Technology Molding Corp. The Greensboro, N.C.-based company combines its expertise in plastic injection molding, marketing, engineering and manufacturing to offer lower pricing by removing costs from the manufacturing process.

The company did well, but Foster owned only 51 percent of it. NCIMED's expert staff helped him craft a business plan and obtain financing to gain full ownership of his company in 2012. Today, his clients include Bausch & Lomb Global Surgical, Husqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products N.A., Newell Rubbermaid, Tyco Electronics and Novant Health.

"There were things I thought I knew as an engineer and through business school," Foster says. "NCIMED helped me to drill down and get the information I need. They asked the tough questions. When I didn't have the answers, they helped me and pointed me in a direction."

NCIMED also guided Foster through the process of becoming a certified MBE (Minority Business Enterprise) by the Carolinas Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council.

Foster has taken his experiences and lessons about the value of ownership and applied them to helping North Carolina communities take back jobs that have gone offshore.

"In manufacturing in the past 10 years, jobs have gone to low-cost providers, like Mexico, China and India, because we're paying someone $13 an hour and they pay someone $0.90 an hour," he says. "We are using robots, which enables us to take the cost out of the product. By doing that, you are able to hire more people with technical expertise instead of having someone put parts in a box."

Foster credits NCIMED with helping him get the financing for the robots, a Class 10,000 Clean Room and other machines. This has allowed Foster to become more efficient, as well as keep jobs and opportunities in North Carolina.

"NCIMED helped me put together a persuasive, robust presentation for financing," Foster says. "Now, we're taking business back from China."

For more information on Core Technology Molding Corp., visit


Tea and Honey Blends: A Recipe for Success

The Element Beauty Bar in downtown Raleigh hummed with activity. A hairstylist parted and placed rollers in a client's hair as she recounted the details of a recent family visit. A reporter from a local newspaper flitted about the beauty salon taking photographs for an upcoming article. A baby of another client was presented, kissed and cooed over.

This is a pivotal moment for Tashni-Ann Dubroy and Tiffani Lash, owners of the Element Beauty Bar and Tea and Honey Blends, a line of natural hair care products.

"You have to understand what you're about to move into," Dubroy said. "You have to think positively and ensure that you are self-motivated and always working to understand your customers' needs and the nature of your competition."

With help from NCIMED's Women's Business Center of North Carolina writing and developing a strategic plan for both businesses, Dubroy and Lash received $30,000 from a business plan competition, a $50,000 business loan and a $100,000 investment for Tea and Honey Blends. In addition, they received a $25,000 investment for the Element Beauty Bar.

elements-beauty-bar 300x227

Element Beauty Bar

They used the infusion of capital to open the upscale beauty salon, develop the raw materials, such as green tea goji berry, to expand Tea and Honey Blends' product line, and hire more employees. Currently a mainstay in 20 beauty bars and beauty boutiques, Tea and Honey Blends is poised to join the shelves of a major national retailer in 2015.

"Tea and Honey Blends has been a great client for the Women's Business Center of North Carolina," said center Director Briles Johnson. "Their enthusiasm, hard work and growth are a testimony of a successful, thriving business. Tashni and Tiffani are amazing, highly intelligent business women dedicated to their success, as well as giving back to the community."

Dubroy and Lash met while doing their post-doctoral studies at N.C. State University. They bonded over their shared loved of chemistry and shared frustration about the lack of natural hair care products for women of color.

"We wanted to create a hair care line that competed directly with Paul Mitchell," Dubroy said. "We thought it was an amazing line, but it was mostly for Caucasian clientele. We used this as our basis to develop Tea and Honey Blends."

The women founded Tea and Honey Blends in 2009. The specially formulated hair care products help repair damage caused by chemical processing and provide the nutrients that maintain natural, healthy hair. The company was the first to market with a proprietary surfactant blend in shampoo that optimizes cleansing and removes oil and dirt build-up without scalp irritation.

Their first break came in 2010 when Tea and Honey Blends was selected among hundreds of companies across the country to participate in an inaugural business mentoring workshop with Macy's. The Women's Business Center of North Carolina helped Dubroy and Lash earn the certification as a minority, women-owned business they needed to participate in the Macy's program.

As their business grew, so did requests to mentor young women. In 2012, the two women founded the Brilliant and Beautiful Foundation, which provides education, leadership and mentorship opportunities to young women pursuing a career in science.

The foundation has teamed with Dubroy and Lash's alma mater, N.C. State University, to offer classes to 100 young women through the university's "Smart Scholars" program on how to apply chemistry to everyday life, such as the "chemistry of hair" and "chemistry in textiles."

"It gives young people a chance to become familiarized with the sciences while, at the same time, it's something they can relate to," Dubroy said.

For more information on Tea and Honey Blends, visit


A Swimming Success: Taylor Fish Farm

Valee Taylor knows what it means to swim upstream in business.

Taylor operates, along with his sister Renee Stewart and son Jeremy Taylor, one of a handful of African American-owned fish farms in the country. Located in Cedar Grove, N.C., Taylor Fish Farm is an impressive 10,000-square-foot sustainable aquaculture facility.

"We grow enough fish in an area that's equivalent to 100 acres of water," Taylor said. "It's all indoors. That way we can control the weather and climate, as well as maintain the same conditions all year around."

Taylor Fish Farms' tilapia is raised without the use of anabolic steroids, added-growth hormones or antibiotics. Unlike pond-raised fish, there are no concerns about toxic mercury levels because the fish are raised in a controlled re-circulation system and fed feed with no animal byproducts.


Organic tilapia tank at Taylor Fish Farm

The company's organic tilapia is sold in restaurants and grocery stores throughout the Carolinas and Georgia, with plans to expand to Alabama and Tennessee. But like most minority and women-owned businesses, Taylor faces significant barriers to entering new markets, such as securing financing and learning how to responsibly grow the business.

"Being the only African American fish farmers, you don't have much support in the industry to ask questions," Taylor said. "We get some systemic advice from N.C. State [University] on how the system works. But in the real world, you need organizations like NCIMED to teach you how to maneuver, grow your company, and gain receipts over $1 million."

Teaching a Man to Fish

NCIMED has helped Taylor Fish Farms identify and maximize the prevailing currents in the industry by providing technical assistance with Minority Business Enterprise certification, building construction, exporting opportunities and market research. The organization has also connected Taylor with major distributors, retail chains and government agencies, such as the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) in Washington, D.C.

One valuable connection through NCIMED was Taylor's introduction to Greg Linford, vice president of procurement and distribution for Denny's Restaurants. Taylor credits Linford with teaching him how to apply the principles of vertical integration to his business and how to position himself to gain contracts with national grocery store chains.

"He made contacts for me who could potentially help me, people I could talk to and get information," Taylor said. "Without it, I wouldn't have been able to get past the front door. There's usually not a pathway or network for disadvantaged businesses."

Feeding the World

NCIMED also helped the company obtain Institute of Marketing certification, which certifies organic, eco-friendly, socially responsible products. Taylor Fish Farm is one of only two tilapia operations in the country to receive this distinction.

"Growing and selling our tilapia in U.S. waters cuts down on our carbon footprint," Taylor said. "Retailers don't have to go to China, Peru or Honduras to get tilapia. The consumer can go from farm to fork and know exactly what he or she's getting. They can come to our farm, meet the farmer and see the production."

In addition, biodiesel can be made from the fish waste, leather goods can be manufactured from tilapia's tough skin and the wastewater can be used for aquaponic and hydroponic operations, Taylor said.

His company's commitment to sustainable aquaculture earned the company a 90-day contract with Whole Foods, one of the nation's largest retail grocery stores.

"I see this as a chance to help micro-communities, such as mine, that are often overlooked for benefits and opportunities," Taylor said. "I'm passionate about feeding people who are hungry and giving people who do not have an advantage an opportunity to have a job or create a business that could support their families."

For more information, visit


Keaton-Barrow gives back after receiving business assistance

Michelle Keaton-Barrow is a legacy creator.

As a realtor and owner of Keaton-Barrow Realty, she and her team provide residential and commercial real estate services with offices in Raleigh and Charlotte. From first-time homebuyers to those purchasing luxury homes, Keaton-Barrow for 27 years has helped consumers at every stage in life realize their dreams. Now, she is creating a legacy for herself and others as a NCIMED client and a valued resource to the community.

Keaton-Barrow learned of NCIMED by word-of-mouth from other small business owners and began attending the organization's conferences and classes.

"We received the type of information a small business owner needs to catapult itself to the next level," she said. "In addition, I met and forged relationships with other small business owners. We empower each other."

Through the Women's Executive Education Leadership series held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Keaton-Barrow met Dr. Laura Foxx, mother of former Charlotte mayor now U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who helped her expand her business in Charlotte. She also met Dr. James H. Johnson Jr., professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC-Chapel Hill and a frequent NCIMED contributor. Johnson later invited her to speak about entrepreneurship to his class at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Now, Keaton-Barrow gives back to NCIMED, signing on as a Gold Sponsor of NCIMED's annual Executive Networking Conference.

"The Executive Networking Conference provides the information and foundation small businesses need to grow," said Keaton-Barrow. "In addition, the networking opportunities at the conference put small businesses in the same arena with large businesses. It helps when, as a small business, you can say 'I'm your peer now.'"

Power of Ten Networking Group finds strength in numbers

In business, as in mathematics, the Power of 10 embodies the idea that there is strength in numbers.

The Power of Ten Networking Group began five years ago by 10 women business owners and professionals interested in capitalizing on that notion. Today, it is a vibrant network that meets monthly to network and support each other's business growth.

Sharon Campbell

NCIMED first connected Sharon Campbell, one of Power of 10's strategic partners, with the 10 women to advise them on their businesses. The group quickly realized the power of their connections and network of contacts.

"We came together and said 'we can do better,'" said Campbell, founder and president of SYNERGY Development and Training Group. "We can refer clients and grow in each other's company.

At the group's monthly networking events, participants learn about available resources and opportunities to help their businesses grow. Victor Galloway, NCIMED's director of client services, for example, spoke at the group's February meeting about the array of services and tools NCIMED offers to help small, women and minority business owners prepare for success.

"We know that as a business, sometimes you have to meet with a lender," Galloway said. "We make sure you are ready for that and packaged well for a lender. You have to understand what credit you need. You may not need $1 million. You may need $10,000, which will help you earn $1 million."

The Power of 10 Networking Group has collaborated with NCIMED to help the group create and sustain a strong network of contacts, make qualified referrals, take advantage of competitive bidding opportunities, share business experiences and knowledge, and host monthly networking events.

Tonya McCoy, Power of 10 member, discovered her business niche by attending NCIMED's Executive Networking Conference. While there, she attended a workshop about market opportunity within the state's aging population.

The presentation inspired McCoy to combine her interest in this emerging market with her experience as a licensed real estate broker and general contractor. She earned her certification in a field that helps senior citizens live independently at home and is now consulting with Habitat for Humanity to build a better home living design for elderly clients.

Latangela Hyman, president of A Peace of My Passion, a solutions-based company providing consulting and planning services to churches and independent Christian bookstores, said access to NCIMED's Construction Resources Center helped her seize a new business opportunity.

"The networking and support I have received have been tremendous," Hyman said. "I have participated in an entrepreneurship challenge that has connected me with like-minded people who have helped me to expand. Timing is everything and the timing is now."

The group's experience proves the power of numbers and the value of connections.

"Because of NCIMED," said Campbell, "we have had women come to us and say 'I have a business in Raleigh. Now I'm in Charlotte and moving to High Point. Because of you, I have wings. I can fly now.'"

The Power of 10 Networking Group meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month. For more information, visit