Category Archives: Minority Business

SunModo’s M.O.

The UW Minority Business of the Year Awards, launched in 1999, recognize outstanding achievement by minorities in building and sustaining businesses in Washington State. This year’s winner of the Southwest Washington Award is SunModo, a solar panel mounting company. The company was founded in 2009 by Tony Liu with the mission to provide the best value racking and mounting solutions for solar power systems.

SunModo Condo Project Liu, also the company’s president, brings over 20 years of product development and manufacturing experience to SunModo. Prior to founding SunModo, he served as the senior mechanical/thermal engineer at Intel and also worked for Danaher and Credence to develop electronic power supply systems for fighter jets.

SunModo has established itself as the provider of affordable, high-quality solar mounting products. The company excels at installing rooftop and ground mounted systems. One of their most successful product lines is their patented EZ roof mount systems, which accounted for over 50% of their sales in 2011.

SunModo has produced a number of improved solutions and new products for the market by leveraging their mechanical and structural engineering capabilities and working with major installation companies. Its competitive advantages include easier installation due to fewer parts and detailed guidelines, lower installation and maintenance costs, and the ability to quickly respond to the market’s and customers’ needs.

According to the Minority Business of the Year Awards selection committee, “SunModo understands the business they are in and has developed innovative products that differentiate them in the market.” They are located in Vancouver, WA and sell their products across the U.S. and are exploring expansion to Canada. They employ nine people and expect to earn $5 million in revenue in 2012.

UW Minority Business of the Year Awards is on December 6 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Hotel in Seattle. It is hosted by the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center. The awards program will highlight the impact of minority businesses on the state’s economy and support the growth of the next generation of minority entrepreneurs. Learn more about purchasing a ticket or sponsoring a table.

Grow smarter

Seattle Bagel BakeryAJ Ghambari, 2007 University of Washington Foster School of Business alumnus, has owned Seattle Bagel Bakery since October 2010. The previous owner was ready to give the business up in the midst of financial hardship and Ghambari took this opportunity to turn the bakery around. This summer, he enlisted the help of a student consultant through the Business & Economic Development Center’s (BEDC) Summer Internship Program to identify ways to strategically grow his business.

“I’m a big fan of the leadership at the BEDC. I want to surround myself with people I want to be like…They are good people doing positive things in the business environment,” said Ghambari. As an undergraduate studying at the Foster School, he “loved the opportunity to collaborate with small business owners, mentors…learning problem solving, consulting…real world stuff…the BEDC really gave that.” Ghambari wanted to play a role in getting students involved and applying their classroom knowledge to the real world.

Since taking over Seattle Bagel Bakery (SBB), Ghambari has continued to deliver a high quality product – “old school kettle-boiled bagels.” But it’s not only the product that is prospering; SBB prides itself on the relationships it builds with their suppliers, customers and employees. All the employees have been with the company from five to 15 years. “We instill a strong sense of ownership in our employees – they feel empowered to do what they’re good at. And that really comes out in the product.”

Ghambari said he hopes to double sales revenue of SBB in the next three to five years, and “not just to make a quick buck, but sustainable growth.” In order to do this, he emphasized how SBB needs to look at its strategy and how it is growing. “We need to grow smarter, not harder,” he said. The BEDC Summer Internship Program is providing this. Student consultant Cynthia Chiou has been creating a “clearer, more focused strategy on growing business outside of the state of Washington,” said Ghambari.

“Everything the student and BEDC said they would do, they have done…they walk the walk,” said Ghambari. He recommends this program for “any small business looking for mentoring and guidance, a second opinion. It’s a great group of people to bounce ideas off of.”

Twelve businesses participated in the summer intern consulting program. Learn more about the companies.

Seattle Metropolitan Chamber expands support for multicultural and small businesses

Guest post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has expanded its support for small and minority-owned businesses with a new executive position. Since February 2012, small business owner Regina Glenn has served as the Chamber’s vice president of multicultural and small business development.

The new position will integrate the functions of the Urban Enterprise Center (UEC) into the operations of the Chamber. Established in 1993 as an affiliate of the Chamber, the UEC was charged with helping grow minority-owned businesses. Last spring, UEC and Chamber leaders convened a task force to determine how best to serve this mission. Their top recommendation was to create a Chamber executive role that would build on the UEC’s work while taking better advantage of the Chamber’s small-business services. These programs include networking events, professional development workshops, policy advocacy and employee benefits like health insurance and 401(k) plans.

Regina Glenn, Seattle Chamber of Commerce VP of multicultural and small business development

“The Chamber is quite the resource if you know how to use it,” says Glenn. She brings to this position her decades of commitment to advancing diverse businesses. She first moved to Seattle in the late 1970s as Mayor Royer’s director of licensing and consumer affairs. In the early 1990s she began a consulting practice, Pacific Communications Consultants, that specialized in diversity training and contracting outreach to minority-owned businesses. At the same time she published Diversity Business News from 1990-1994.

Glenn’s hands are full. She is busy establishing partnerships with organizations such as the Tabor 500, the Northwest Minority Supplier Development Council, Filipino Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest, King County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and others.

She is also launching a number of new initiatives that will help multicultural and small businesses take full advantage of the Chamber’s business services such as:

  • An online resource for small businesses with information such as how to access capital.
  • A “how to do business with…” series to help smaller businesses form ongoing relationships with larger corporations.
  • A business growth and development series starting this winter, featuring successful business speakers.
  • A business accelerator program that will match established minority businesses with a major corporation in the region, starting in fall 2013.

“This is not a social service,” says Glenn. “We are about increasing profits for multicultural businesses and integrating them into all aspects of the Chamber’s programs and policy advocacy.”

We will be announcing the Chamber’s new multicultural programs as they come on line. It promises to be a great resource for minority entrepreneurs.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

Native American Trading at the River

Guest post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

On April 19-20, 2012, the Oregon Native American Business & Entrepreneurial Network, otherwise known as ONABEN, will be hosting its 10th annual Trading at the River conference and tradeshow at the Embassy Suites Hotel near the Portland Airport. Native American enterprises from every sector and of every size will be gathering to learn, partner and promote their businesses.

Tom Hampson, ONABEN’s executive director, says that the focus of the Trading at the River conference is really about what he calls Indianpreneurship. He says, “The challenges facing Native American small business owners is a litany similar to any you would see for a small biz owner, such as insufficient capital, equity and debt caps, and a lack of markets, especially in rural areas with more limited markets.” Since ONABEN’s start in 1991, it has continued to help Native American businesses grow by providing information and technology so they can manage a business in the current environment. ONABEN provides these services in a way that takes into account cultural context. Hampson says it is, “how to marry traditional values with contemporary business principles. Our entrepreneurs are literally walking in two worlds.”

Today, ONABEN’s reach extends throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho. It has touched hundreds of Native American businesses in reservations and urban areas. In addition to offering business support and training, it partners with CRAFT3, a community development lender focused on providing technical assistance to nascent Native financial institutions and needed capital for business growth.

Hampson points out that trade flourished among the tribes before European contact. “Indians operated sustainable economies for over ten thousand years. We had elaborate monetary and bartering systems, but the web of commercial relations was disrupted by European contact, acts of war and genocide.” The system that replaced it values the accumulation of wealth by individuals above the overall wealth of the community.

Trading at the River bills itself as a celebration of the spirit of Native American innovation and a showcase for Native American enterprises of all shapes and sizes. Over a two day period, participants will engage in community discussions, workshops and symposia, as well as have an opportunity to gather at the Trading at the River marketplace of ideas, products and services.

ONABEN, and all those who participate in the Trading at the River conference, are focused on reestablishing a more inclusive definition of prosperity. “If one has access to resources and the support of community,” says Hampson, “commerce can proceed apace. Everyone can benefit.”

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

Foster team wins national minority MBA case competition

An MBA team from the University of Washington Foster School Business and Economic Development Center took first place at the 2012 National Minority MBA Case Competition held at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University.

The team of first-year Evening MBA students, Brent Bauslaugh, Ben Lapekas, Ksenia Karpisheva and Rakesh Saini, beat out teams from 18 other business schools from around the US including University of California Los Angeles, Carnegie Mellon, Indiana University and Boston College. The grand prize for Foster’s Evening MBA students? $7,500. Additionally, Lapekas was recognized as the best presenter and Bauslaugh won first place for best question and answer session.

All 18 competing teams had 20 minutes to provide a solution to a case dealing with strategic choices for third party commercial loan servicing business at Key Bank. “Our students’ ability to handle ambiguity of the case and yet provide firm recommendations backed up with hard data were ultimately what differentiated them from the rest,” says team advisor Geraldine Rodriguez, assistant director at the UW Business and Economic Development Center.

EJ Burke, Key Bank’s head of real estate capital and corporate banking services adds, “The University of Washington team’s presentation represented a thorough understanding of a very complex and difficult case. Their recommended solutions were actionable and thought provoking.”

A team from the UW Business and Economic Development Center has placed in the top three teams nationally for the past four years for this diversity competition.

Each fall, the Business and Economic Development Center hosts a UW Foster School of Business internal Diversity in Business Case Competition in order to select the team of MBA students who represents Foster at the national competition.

Architect Donald King: determined to build

Guest post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

Architect Donald King has received much recognition for his lifetime achievements in his chosen field. He was elected an AIA Fellow in 2000 and, of approximately 2200 AIA Fellows, Mr. King is one of about 50 living African American fellows. His buildings have earned scores of national and local design awards. We see his work through the greater Seattle region—the Urban League at Colman School, the new and green Asian Counseling and Referral Service, transit centers, clinics, schools, libraries, public housing. His career has been satisfying and fulfilling as an architect and as an entrepreneur.

But his journey was not a path well-travelled.

Donald King knew he wanted to be an architect when he was only 12 years old, but “in the 1950’s and 1960’s it was hard to say you wanted to be an architect if you were young, black, working class and poor,” he said. Many people discouraged him from pursuing architecture, including his guidance counselor. “I overcame discouragement because of my stubbornness. Every time I was told I couldn’t be an architect, it would make me want to disprove that person. I was not the best student in high school, and I had to go to community college to get caught up and improve my GPA. Working full time and going to school part time, it took me 11 years from the time I started undergrad to complete college with my masters in architecture at UCLA.”

After moving to Seattle in 1980, it was very difficult for King to find work. Most firms were only interested in having him work on projects in the black community. He eventually obtained a position as principle architect for the non-profit Environmental Works Community Design Center. And it was because of the encouragement of Sea Mar Community Health Centers Executive Director Rogelio Riojas that he ventured forth in 1985 to start Donald King Architects (DKA).

After nearly 27 years, and over 400 projects, King has become known for his strengths as a planner, programmer, and designer, and noted especially for his collaborative design approach. Although primarily focused on community facilities, DKA has weathered several economic downturns by being flexible enough to move back and forth between public and private sector contracts. This last economic downturn has had the greatest impact because activity has slowed in both the public and private sectors, and competition is tighter. “The big firms got hit, and they have started moving into the markets that we have served.” Despite the success of DKA, King believes there is still a “glass ceiling” for black architects.

“Success can be a double-edged sword,” he notes. If you grow, you need to “feed the beast.” He advises minority entrepreneurs to understand that things are going to be a little more challenging than you might think. “You need to be flexible, ready for changes in the economy and market. You can’t rest on your laurels,” he said. “There are a lot of rewards, but you have to love what you do to sustain your commitment.”

Today Donald King is practicing his craft, working on an ownership transition for DKA, and teaching at the University of Hawaii. He is currently working with the university to set up a non-profit Community Design Center in Honolulu which will support community building needs in Hawaii’s low-income neighborhoods. Still not resting on his laurels, still stubborn, still serving the greater good.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

2011 minority business of the year awards

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

Each year the UW Foster School of Business recognizes exceptional performance by minority-owned businesses throughout Washington state. On December 8, seven businesses were honored. They hail from throughout Washington, and are owned by Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latino Americans. They come from services, construction and sales. They are local, national and international.

They range from small to large. Some, like Sister Sky who produces natural bath products inspired by Native American herbal wisdom on the Spokane Indian Reservation, expects 2011 revenues to be $600,000. Others like Sam & Jenny of Bellevue is one of the largest waste paper exporters in the US, with anticipated 2011 revenues of over $70M, exporting 300,000MT of waste paper each year to South Korea and China.

The youngest company, Macnak Construction of Lakewood founded in 2007, has grown their revenues by 375% since it was founded—without borrowing any long term debt. They expect $6M in revenues in 2011. Indian Eyes, a Pasco business specializing in equipment logistics and construction management founded in 2005, expects $20M in revenues in 2011. Revel Consulting, a Kirkland-business management consulting firm founded in 2005, expects $26M in revenues this year. The Hughs Group of Tacoma, a logistics contract management company, anticipates sales of $8.1M. Everett-based Del Sol Auto Sales in operation since 2002 expects revenues of $5.5M this year.

“All seven businesses have proven that they have what it takes, even during this challenging economy, to survive and thrive,” says Michael Verchot, director of the Business and Economic Development at the UW Foster School. Since 1999, the Minority Business Awards program has given much-due recognition to high-performing, minority-owned businesses. Congratulations are due to:

  • Sam & Jenny (William D. Bradford Award)
  • Del Sol Auto Sales (NW Washington Award)
  • Revel Consulting (King County Award)
  • Hughes Group (SW Washington Award)
  • Sister Sky (NE Washington Award)
  • Indian Eyes (SE Washington Award)
  • Macnak Construction (Rising Star of the Year)

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

Informed innovation: interview with Steve Tolton of Petrocard

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBrogan

The Brogan Blog had a chance recently to chat with Steve Tolton, the CEO of PetroCard, a leading Pacific Northwest fuel and lubrication distributor. PetroCard, specializes in unattended stations that use a proprietary card lock technology to provide fuel to commercial customers that can be as large as Pepsico or as small as the one-truck plumber down the street.

And it may be one of the largest companies you’ve never heard of.

In 2010, PetroCard grossed over $900 million. PetroCard was ranked last year as the fifth largest privately held corporation in Washington State.  It is owned by Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.  BBNC is owned by about 8,200 Eskimo, Indian and Aleut shareholders.

PetroCard started in 1997, when Steve Tolton, then the Chief Financial Officer of BBNC, was looking for promising investments.  He partnered with banker Tom Farr, who saw an opportunity to consolidate the fragmented card lock business, starting with the purchase of a small company called PetroCard.

Neither Steve or Tom knew much about petroleum.  But they knew a good business opportunity when they saw it.  In less than 15 years, PetroCard has gone from 25 million gallons to 300 million gallons of fuel sales per year and it has leveraged its base business into other compatible business ventures

Steve Tolton attributes PetroCard’s success to focus on its customer base..   Their regional customers include school fleets and taxis, as well as Waste Management vehicles.”

“We touch our customers a thousand times a day,” says Tolton.  “We stay abreast of trends so we can offer solutions to our customers before they have to ask for them.”  Innovation means knowing how to manage risk with great due diligence.

“It is rare to hit a complete home run,” says Tolton.  He noted, however that the “Clean N’ Green” fuel stations, PetroCard’s partnership with Waste Management, has come pretty close to a homerun—exceeding all  expectations.

“For the last two years, we’ve been operating commercial natural gas stations, because of the continued expansion in the area of compressed natural gas,” said Tolton.

Tolton has grown PetroCard, but  does not believe in growth for its own sake.  “We focus on our commercial customers fueling and lube solutions, even though we may see other opportunities,” he said.  “We’re better at taking a decent companies and helping make them better.” PetroCard’s venture into natural gas has been an entrepreneurial “home run,” built on a deep understanding of industry trends and changing customer needs, including the need for a cost-competitive product in an emerging market.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

Women leadership in India via microfinance

Guest post by Cynthia Sánchez (UW English major, graduating in 2011)

I used to believe microfinance pertained only to those in the banking industry. However, I’ve discovered this is not the case. Microfinance can be utilized by many banks, but also individuals seeking to help others. I learned microfinance does more than lend money. It helps people save, build their resources and reduce their vulnerability.

Microfinance repayment gathering in India
Microfinance repayment gathering in India

Meeting with Grameen Bank in Bangalore, India allowed me to witness the difference the bank makes by giving 97% of their loans to women while they also strive to educate the next generation. Our meeting with Grameen Bank began by attending a repayment meeting. We arrived at the gathering location—encountering a few goats along the way—and entered an open space. A group of women sat leg-crossed chanting the sixteen decisions, a set of values, followed by the recitation of a vow. This was the way they commenced meetings. They welcomed us with smiles and requests to sit next to them, tapping the floor beside them to signal open spots. The women wore saris and a few cradled their children. We took our seats barefoot and watched each member sign in. Their glass and golden bangles slid up and down, synchronized to the movement of their arms.

The session was quick. The women were prepared with the money stacked in their hands, like a deck of cards. They all sat attentive waiting to hear their name to pass the payment to the lender. The money circulated, hand in hand, until it reached him. He counted the amount and recorded the amount in the borrower record sheet which contained the borrower’s picture, her name, the names of her children and spouse and dates of all the past payments.

We learned from the women that with the money they borrowed they had paid for their children’s education, started businesses, resolved personal issues and emergencies and also had the opportunity to expand their knowledge of business. Obtaining a loan from Grameen Bank had empowered them to decide what was best for their families and their future. Women who were once considered “uncredit-worthy” are now beginning to move away from poverty in a country where 41% of its population is still “unbanked”—demonstrating the difference a small loan can make.

Cynthia is a University of Washington student participant in the Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Business women in India and America share hope

Guest post by Emily Gerloff (UW business major, graduating in 2011)

“Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is important that you do it.” -Mahatma Gandhi

I was told that India is life-changing.  After hearing this on several occasions, I remember thinking to myself: What a strange concept. How can a country be life-changing?

After spending a month on the Half the Sky Exploration Seminar via the UW Foster School of Business, I am still unable to express exactly how India changed my life, but I know with absolute certainty that it did.

Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.
Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.

During the micro-lending meetings I expected to see poor, impoverished women with sob stories capable of making me instantaneously empty my pockets. I was surprised and relieved to find it was nothing like what I had imagined. These women did not have an ounce of desperation in their voices as they told their stories. They are an absolute testament to the power of hope and determination.  They live their lives with an innate sense of duty and purpose I can only compare to an American’s sense of equality and freedom.

Another surprise was how closely the lives of these women parallel my own. The micro-loans they receive are similar to the loans that fund my education.  I come from an underprivileged family (by American standards) and would be unable to attend college if it weren’t for the grants and loans provided to me by the government. Although I am occasionally jealous of my fellow students who will graduate with zero debt, it doesn’t change the fact that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to better my life. I don’t think I am any less deserving of an education just because I was born into a family that couldn’t pay for one. This is a similar stance these women take regarding the micro-loans they receive. They possess gratitude and a humble belief that they deserve the right to prove their worth.

India changed my life.  I have seen first-hand the power of hope and determination and won’t deny myself the chance to see how far my own hope and determination will take me.

Emily is a University of Washington student participant in the Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.