Category Archives: Minority Business

Greenlining: how can we make it work for the Northwest?

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganMost of us know about “redlining,” the historic practice of disinvestment by banks, insurance companies, and other institutions of communities of color and low income people.  In the 60’s and 70’s, there were a flurry of corrective actions at the national level, such as the 1968 Fair Housing Act and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act.

The concept of “greenlining” was invented to turn redlining on its head by reinvesting in low-income, minority and disabled communities. A multi-ethnic Greenlining Coalition was formed in California in the mid-1970’s. In 1993, they established the Greenlining Institute, a multi-ethnic public policy research and advocacy center. The Institute’s programs range from leadership training to policy advocacy to a Green Assets program supporting sustainable businesses in communities of color.

A recent Green Assets publication, Greening Our Neighborhoods: a Carbon Metric for All, makes a case for block-by-block “whole house” energy retrofits that target low-income neighborhoods that can benefit the most from energy savings. In the process, jobs are created and carbon is reduced. Their case study of 36 homes in Census Tract of Richmond, California documented significant energy and economic benefits from a range of weatherization, conservation and appliance replacement actions.

Funds becoming available through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act for energy retrofits and green programs can benefit the triple bottom line for natural, economic and social environments. Organizations like the Greenlining Institute are working to position businesses and communities of color to access these opportunities. Their experience and business model offers promising lessons for emerging businesses in Washington and the Pacific Northwest.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is 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 twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

Foster students consult for Brazilian restaurant in Seattle: part 4

Click on the image above to play video.

On March 13, 2010 the minority-owned restaurant Tempero do Brasil received its final recommendations and a few accounting tools from undergraduate business consultants assigned to help the Seattle restaurant improve its bottom line. The students and their advisors were working with Tempero as part of the UW Foster School Business and Economic Development Center’s annual winter quarter Multicultural Marketing and Business Development class.

In this last installment of our video series following the students, the team members detail in real business terms how Tempero’s business can be improved. The teams had a bevy of advisors over the quarter project from Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company; PNC Mortgage; and the international communications consultancy Hill & Knowlton.

See the entire 4-part series.

Featured minority business: Mundiali

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganFeatured Minority Business: Mundiali
Bellevue, WA

Mundiali means “The World.” for Alex Agudelo it means a business vision that helps traditional business models move to innovative and environmentally-conscious ways of doing business. His business philosophy will inspire minority entrepreneurs who share his passion for the green economy.

He founded Mundiali in 2008 as a “triple bottom line” business that helps other businesses address their impacts on the environment while adding to their return on investment. Agudelo got the idea for his company several years ago when he first became aware of innovations in renewable energy, biofuels and water quality. “I knew instantly that this is the future for the economy—where business needs to go and grow,” said Agudelo.

Today, Mundiali’s  group of ten consultants help clients that include anything from technology companies to farmers—anyone who wants to make the transition to sustainability through energy consumption or other business practices. “Our assessments are refined, scalable and provide a great deal of intellectual property and wealth for clients,” said Agudelo.

The company’s biggest challenges have been developing a market presence and in obtaining financial backing. “It’s a fact that brand and name recognition is critical—people need to recognize the name and understand the value we bring before engaging us. Access to capital support is necessary to take our business to the next level. The Stimulus Package has yet to filter down to businesses like ours!”

Despite these challenges, he believes there is tremendous opportunity for minority-owned businesses to access opportunity in the green economy. “There is an abundance of opportunity for anyone who wants to play in the green economy,” said Alex. He adds, “You cannot waiver from your initial and original goal. Don’t give up. Forge forward. We are diving into a new economy and the field is yet to mature.”

Want to learn more? Visit www.mundiali.com.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is 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 will be writing the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

First legislative visit: a student’s perspective of minority business policy

Guest blog post by Caroline Gabriel, Foster undergraduate student

Caroline Gabriel at WA State CapitolLegislature.  Am I the only one who cannot correctly pronounce the term? I looked it up and found it is pronounced “lej-is-ley-cher,” courtesy of dictionary.com. I mention this word for a reason. I am a student assistant at the UW Foster School Business and Economic Development Center (BEDC). Since coming to the University of Washington, I have had many amazing experiences.

One memorable experience transpired the morning of March 3 when I journeyed with my boss and BEDC Director Michael Verchot to the marble steps of the state’s capitol to attend a hearing of the Washington State Legislature Community & Economic Development & Trade Committee. Here, Michael gave a speech on Washington small minority-owned businesses. He drew attention to some startling data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—that while Caucasians have dealt with increasing rates of unemployment, minorities have dealt with outstandingly high rates for many years. With African-American unemployment rates at 7.8% in 2006 to 12.9% in 2009 and the Caucasian unemployment rate at 4.9% in 2006 and 8.8% in 2009, it represents a stark contrast. This fact seems to have been swept under the table of economic affairs recently. One thing the BEDC director was trying to convey was how existing policies address the problems of Caucasian businesses, such as high taxes and regulation red tape, but have failed to subscribe policies to the more prominent and recurrent problems within minority businesses.

Friendly legislators

Sitting from left to right were representatives Parker, Orcutt, Smith, Kenney (madam chair), Maxwell and Chase.  All dressed in business attire, some appearing happier than others. I always imagined representatives, any politicians really, to be boring, dry shells of government policy. I was proven wrong as I saw Representative Smith chatting away with a broad smile. Perhaps I had a misguided opinion of the people in power. It was interesting to listen to, after Michael’s presentation, a number of representatives quickly responding with very intellectual questions. I suppose you have to be intelligent and likeable to be a politician, but I was surprised by their excellent speech, even their perkiness.

Not-so-friendly questions

They asked very direct, yet sometimes infuriating questions. It was disheartening to hear them inquire why some data was not present and if BEDC could include it in its next report. The truth is that the economy, as the statistics describe, affects everyone. As a result, BEDC does not have enough funding to conduct such extensive surveys as the legislature would have liked. It seems meetings such as these would be more efficiently spent if the representatives asked beforehand what exactly they were looking for as far as numbers and statistics were concerned, rather than reprimanding the presenter about limited information after they have put much time and effort into their presentation.

Okay, I am done venting. As for the whole meeting, it was conducted with civility; everyone addressed each other formally, never interrupting, and everything else went very smoothly. I had the pleasure of sitting at the presenter’s table and was recognized for collecting and analyzing the data, and was able to get an up-close-and-personal view of committee procedures and protocols.

Despite going to a university, I have met some really naïve people. People who cannot pronounce “legislature” or do not know how to get to UW’s Red Square are just victims of naiveté. I would be one of them. The only way to cure this is to experience more of what is right at our fingertips. I encourage you to sit in on a committee meeting. It was both educational about government policies and eye opening to glimpse everyday tasks of policy-making.

Foster students consult for Brazilian restaurant in Seattle: part 3

In this installment of our video series following student business consultants from the Foster School, the UW Business and Economic Development Center team members discuss the biggest challenges they face in improving the bottom line of a small Brazilian restaurant. This is the third in the series on Foster Unplugged where you can follow the five-member student team assigned to help Tempero do Brasil, a restaurant at 5628 University Way Northeast. Check back to follow more of the student team’s efforts as the winter quarter class progresses (under Student Life blog category).

Many shades of green

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganThe National Smart Growth Conference held in Seattle in early February featured a track on social justice. Various speakers discussed the challenges of integrating people of color into the green movement. One need only go to any gathering of environmental activists to observe the reality of this demographic homogeneity.

Is green the “new white?” Does this “unintentional exclusion” translate into fewer economic opportunities in the emerging green economy?

Communities of color have a strong stake in environmental quality. Our communities are typically more likely to experience disproportionate environmental impacts from urban development. Furthermore, many of our traditional cultures are steeped in sustainable practices such as urban agriculture, conservation, reuse and high transit usage.

Putting aside the fact that these practices are usually driven more by economic need than environmental ideology, one could argue that communities of color are true pioneers of sustainability. Sustainable behaviors are integrated into every aspect of our cultures as a way of life, rather than as a political statement. Sustainability is not simply about the environment, but also embraces the need for economic and social sustainability. Communities of color offer receptive markets and traditions of environmental behavior that are ideal opportunities for the green marketplace.

Our challenge as minority entrepreneurs is to embrace and expand on this integrated view of sustainability. How can we bring green technologies to help our people save money on energy? How can we make it easier to grow healthy crops that nourish our families without the risk of pesticides? How can we educate our young people to choose quality of life over quantity of goods?

Green economy opportunities abound in our own backyards.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is 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 will be writing the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

Foster students consult for Brazilian restaurant in Seattle: part 2

Watch the second installment of our video series following student business consultants from the Foster School as they help a small Brazilian restaurant improve its bottom line and sell its hot sauce. Undergraduate students visit the restaurant for the first time on January 12, sample the food and hot sauce, and finalize their consulting contract with the business.

This is the second of a series of videos on Foster Unplugged where you can follow the five-member student team assigned to help Tempero do Brasil, a restaurant at 5628 University Way Northeast. Check back to follow more of the student team’s efforts as the winter quarter class progresses (under Student Life blog category).


The team was organized through the UW Business and Economic Development Center‘s Marketing 445 class. During winter quarter, dozens of students join teams and are paired with professional consultants from Hitachi Consulting, Deloitte, Ernst & Young as well as senior executives through the Seattle Rotary Club to help minority business owners expand their businesses and improve their bottom lines.

Foster students consult for Brazilian restaurant in Seattle: part 1

The UW Foster School of Business annual Multicultural Marketing and Business Development class is underway and that means local businesses owned by people of color and women will get hundreds of hours of free consulting from student teams, their advisors and mentors.

Through the Business and Economic Development Center’s Marketing 445 class, students are paired with professional consultants from Hitachi Consulting, Deloitte, Ernst & Young as well as senior executives through the Seattle Rotary Club to help minority business owners expand their businesses and improve their bottom lines.

In a series of videos on Foster Unplugged you can follow the five-member student team assigned to help Tempero do Brasil, a small restaurant at 5628 University Way Northeast, as the students experience the challenges and success of helping  this business with its accounting practices and market its unique hot sauce.

In this first installment, watch as Foster teams meet Tempero do Brasil owners for the first time on January 11. Check back to follow more of the student team’s efforts as the winter quarter class progresses (under Student Life blog category).

Turning green into $green: Market strategies for minority–owned businesses

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganQ:  What is green and white all over?
A:   It’s the green economy!

One of the primary purposes of this blog series is to introduce more color into the green economy. Just as the environmental movement has been comprised primarily of white middle-class people, so has the emergence of green businesses reflected that demographic.  While minority-owned businesses participate at about the same rate as white-owned firms do in the green economy, African American- and Latino-owned firms in the green economy are smaller in terms of revenue and number of employees than are Caucasian- and Asian/Pacific Islander-owned firms according to a 2008 survey by the UW Business and Economic Development Center (BEDC). There are probably a lot of sociological reasons for this disparity, but the fact remains that there is a growing economic sector that is still untapped by many minority-owned businesses.

 There is no magic to becoming a successful green business, but here are four steps that can help minority businesses break into the green economy:

  • Develop your “elevator speech.”  Imagine that you only had time between the 10th floor and 1st floor to convince a venture capitalist to invest in your business. How would you describe your business model, its value and potential in three sentences or less? This is not an easy thing to do, but the discipline and creativity that you need to exercise in developing your elevator speech will help you hone your brand into a strong and memorable message.
  • Network with other green businesses. The enthusiasm and commitment of environmentally-oriented businesses and organizations is staggering. Organizations like Green Drinks have grown from low-key networking events into huge monthly celebrations of like-minded businesses. Over 400 people attended the Green Drinks event that PRR co-sponsored in October. Attendees included wind and solar power businesses, manufacturers of green office products, distributors of green office products—you get my point.  Even better, we were able to raise funds for our co-sponsoring non-profit, People for Puget Sound.
  • Get certified as a small business with the Small Business Administration as a DBE or MWBE with the State Office of Minority and Women-Owned Businesses or with the NW Minority Supplier Development Council. These programs will let you know about upcoming procurement opportunities, and can help provide technical assistance and low-income loans.
  • Join the BEDC’s Green Economy Initiative. We all get by with a little help from our friends. The mission of the Green Economy Initiative is to increase the number of minority-owned businesses that are generating profits from their involvement in the green economy.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is 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 will be writing the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

Hopeful signs from small business growth

MichaelVerchotAs we all try to look ahead and see what the New Year has in store for this region’s economy there are some less visible but possibly more promising early signs of recovery. At the end of 2009 the UW Foster School Business and Economic Development Center celebrated the successes of small businesses from across the state at the 11th annual UW Minority Business of the Year Awards banquet. The 550+ attendees celebrated the incredible growth that minority-owned businesses have had in Washington.

  • When the awards program began in 1999 the 50 largest minority-owned businesses in Washington had combined revenues of under $1 billion.
  • This year, the 50 largest had combined revenues in excess of $3 billion. And for the first time there’s a minority-owned business, PetroCard Systems of Kent, which has revenues in excess of $1 billion.
  • As recently as five years ago, companies could get on the largest minority-owned business list with sales of as little as $750,000 and this year, the smallest of the 50 largest businesses had revenues in excess of $3.4 million.
  • The fastest growing minority-owned business this year (for the 5th time in 7 years) comes from the Spokane area. The Spokane Tribal Enterprise Corporation has grown its revenues by more than 760% in the last three years and has grown from just seven employees to nearly 50.
  • The 25 fastest-growing, minority-owned businesses in Washington have added more than 600 jobs in the last three years, despite the recession.

Prior to the 2009 awards banquet, we held our annual Minority CEO Summit. This invitation-only event drew 40 CEOs of million dollar plus companies and the strategies that these companies were employing to grow were impressive and proving to be very successful. Some companies were developing joint ventures with companies throughout the Pacific Rim. Others were acquiring competitors, and still other companies were developing business-to-business relationships with other minority-owned companies to grab market share and to do business with each other.

Also at the Summit, Foster School economics professor Alan Hess presented the Chicago Federal Reserve Index of economic activity which showed that the economic recovery is ahead of schedule when compared to an average of the six recessions between 1970 and 2001. This was a great encouragement to the CEOs at the Summit who are all anxious to make new investments as the economy turns around.

While these CEOs of some of Washington’s largest and fastest growing minority-owned businesses were not feeling like the good times were rolling yet, as they talked with each other at the CEO Summit and Minority Business of the Year Awards, they were optimistic about their opportunities in 2010 – something we can all celebrate.

By Michael Verchot, director of the UW Business and Economic Development Center