Minority Business Development Center

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Toledoan Wanda Butts has been named one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012, which honors people who make significant contributions to better the lives of others.

The tragic loss of her 16-year-old son, Joshua, to a drowning accident six years ago prompted Ms. Butts to start the Josh Project, which teaches children how to swim and other water safety skills. As one of CNN’s 10 winners this year, Ms. Butts’ project will receive a $50,000 grant to further the nonprofit’s work.

The Josh Project targets minority children who are three times more likely to drown than white children. Ms. Butts says there is a fear of water among African-Americans, an aversion she had as a child and that she passed on to her own children. Had Josh known how to swim, she believes he might be alive today.

Ms. Butts refused to let her grief become debilitating, so she set out to see that no other parent or family suffers such a tragedy by starting the project. Some 1,200 Toledo children have since learned life-saving water skills as a result of the Josh Project, which has taken Ms. Butts throughout the country.

As one of the 10 winners, Ms. Butts has a chance to win a $250,000 grant for the Josh Project. The CNN Hero of the Year will be announced in a live broadcast on Dec. 2.

To help Ms. Butts be win, anyone can vote up to 10 times a day online or on a mobile device. Additionally, CNN says votes can also be shared on Facebook and Twitter. To cast your votes online, visit http://www.cnn.com/ SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/.



The University of Toledo has tripled the available space at its Minority Business Development Center as it works to help more fledgling enterprises get off the ground.

Situated at UT’s Scott Park campus, the center is an incubator aimed at helping cultivate local minority-owned companies.

Right now, the incubator has nine members and seven affiliates. The additional space in the faculty annex gives the center enough room to be host to as many as 30 businesses.

“We’ve had a number of growth areas but we’ve seen the opportunity for the center to do even more things to help the businesses and the local economy, which has always been our goal,” said Shanda Gore, assistant vice president for equity and diversity at the University of Toledo and the center's director.

UT started the incubator in 2009. Erik Johnson, program manager, said the area’s minority community had been calling for a place to help develop minority-owned businesses.

“The University of Toledo stepped up, heard that cry, and put up something that could stir or create economic growth within the community,” Mr. Johnson said.

The center caters to businesses that are beyond the concept phase but perhaps not quite at the point of being able to move off the kitchen table and into their own offices.

"The real benefit is having other early-stage businesses around you that have some synergy with you as far as where they're at in their business cycle, and having access to business professionals that can advise you on how to increase your sales and/or reduce your costs to become a better, more efficient operation,” Mr. Johnson said.

Businesses rent office space at market rates and have access to things such as a conference room and training facilities. Perhaps more importantly, tenants also get counseling and advice from center staff and access to UT graduate students and interns.

“What we find is businesses, when you’re a one-man or one-woman shop, you may be focused on day-to-day operations, but you may not have that strategic plan on where do I want to be one year or three years or five years from now,” Ms. Gore said.

By having students help with setting up Web sites, developing marketing strategies, and making sales calls, the owners are free to focus more on the overall direction their company will take. That arrangement also works in favor of the students, who are able to gain experience in their chosen fields. Though there is adequate space for up to 30 businesses, Ms. Gore doesn’t expect the center will reach that number quickly. Applicants face a rigorous admissions process that requires a solid business plan, proof of working capital, and an intent to stay in the Toledo community. 

“We are truly looking for a good match. We’re not real estate and we’re not landlords. This is program you agree to be a part of. We celebrate when you have positive successes, and if you have challenges we want to help you get out of those,” Ms. Gore said.

The expectation is that companies will spend three to four years in the incubator before graduating out of it. So far, three companies have made the leap, Ms. Gore said. The incubator is also open to nonprofits. The incubator is home to the Josh Project. Headed by Wanda Butts, the Josh Project teaches children water safety and how to swim. It was named one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012, earning a $50,000 grant.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



Economy drives entrepreneurship - Published: 6/21/2011 Toledo Blade
Minority-owned firms on rise in metro Toledo

In six years, Gary Johnson has gone from fledgling entrepreneur to owner of a commercial flooring business that is doubling in size.

He started American Flooring Installers LLC in 2005 with three employees. Today, the Toledo firm has eight employees and expects sales of $2 million this year, up from $1 million in 2010.

Mr. Johnson, president of the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is now using his success to help an increasing number of aspiring entrepreneurs who join the organization.

"Anybody can start a business," said Mr. Johnson, who said the chamber has 45 members. "And it's not necessarily the amount of money you have to start the business, but the burning desire to succeed."

Mr. Johnson's company is part of a swiftly growing group of minority-owned businesses throughout metro Toledo, according to recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

There were more than 2,250 black-owned firms in metropolitan Toledo in 2007, up 38.4 percent from 2002, the census shows. The region had 945 Latino-owned firms in 2007, a 30.7-percent increase from 2002, and 755 Asian-owned firms in 2007, an increase of 14 percent from 2002.

Minority firms grew at a faster rate than all businesses in the region during that period. There were nearly 48,350 companies in metro Toledo in 2007, up 8.4 percent from about 44,590 in 2002.

Nationally, the number of minority owned firms grew 45.5 percent from 2002 to 2007, compared to an increase of 17.9 percent for all U.S. businesses during that period, according to the Census.

Janet Butler, spokesman with the Census Bureau in Detroit, said a declining economy in recent years caused cuts at larger companies that prompted many people to start their own firms -- a trend that, she said, may have continued past 2007.

"People are looking for new ways to generate their own income by starting small businesses that would serve the community," Ms. Butler said.

Mr. Johnson said a recent push for diversity in public and private-sector contracting has led to an increase in the number of minority-owned firms tapping into those markets.

"There's a lot of industries out there saying that diversity is good for business," he said.

The Toledo area has a reliable support network for minority-owned firms that is helping them to grow, said Shanda Gore, assistant vice president for equity and diversity at the University of Toledo. She directs the university's Minority Business Development Center, an incubator that helps grow local minority-owned companies.

The center, which launched in September, 2009, includes seven member firms and two chambers of commerce, including the local Hispanic chamber.

Ms. Gore said groups such as the UT incubator, the Toledo Minority Business Assistance Center at the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority's Diversified Contractors Accelerator Program are helping to build and retain minority firms in metro Toledo.

"You have a lot of different elements in the community sitting at the same table, and the synergy is making a difference," she said.

Contact Sheena Harrison at: sharrison@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.


Minority firms gaining footing at UT incubator - published 2/14/11 Toledo Blade

Bebley Enterprises Inc., an industrial cleaning and maintenance company, is one of several businesses at the university's Minority Business Development Center, an incubator meant to help bolster growth of local minority-owned companies.

Since moving into the incubator early last year, Mr. Bebley said, he has been able to discuss ideas with like-minded entrepreneurs and receive business assistance that has helped his company expand. In turn, he said, that support recently helped him to be selected as a subcontractor for framing work at Toledo's Hollywood Casino, scheduled to open next year.

"The thing that resonates most with us is the collaborative environment here in the incubator," said Mr. Bebley, who has 20 employees.

Since opening in September, 2009, UT's Minority Business Development Center, at the Scott Park Campus of Energy and Innovation, has grown to house six companies as well as the Toledo African-American Bureau of Commerce and the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Together, the businesses have hired 44 employees and generated sales of $2.2 million in the last six months.

The center has room for two additional businesses and launched a membership program Monday that allows companies to use the incubator's resources for $50 a month without renting office space.

Milton McIntyre, owner of Peak Electric Inc., shares office space with Bebley Enterprises at the incubator and said the companies often brainstorm ways to lure business.

"We bounce ideas off each other and we're aware of what's coming in, as far as construction is concerned," said Mr. McIntyre, whose electrical contracting business has seven employees and had sales of about $1 million last year.

Benefits of the incubator program include business planning assistance and coaching, opportunities to meet with university faculty and staff, free use of office equipment, and access to student workers -- some of whom the companies have hired as full-time employees.

"The center is what we consider an ideal opportunity to not only reach out to the minority business community, but to welcome economic growth," said Shanda Gore, the center's director and UT assistant vice president for equity and diversity. "It truly fosters an environment that offers assistance and relationship building, which is a cornerstone to any successful business."

 The center, modeled after UT's alternative-energy and information-technology incubators, aims to help minority-owned businesses graduate within three years of arrival.

"The emphasis here is not only to have them grow out of the space and the needs and the services that we have, but that they'll pay it forward and contribute as alumni back to those that are in the development center," she said.

Companies must apply to open an office at the center, and space is limited to companies in the professional services, light manufacturing, and general construction sectors. Applicants typically need a business plan, four to six months of working capital, and an intention to stay in the area.

Oona Temple's company, Cosine Technical Group LLC, could be one of the first to graduate from the incubator. Her staffing and recruitment firm was the center's first tenant, starting with 125 square feet and two employees. Today, the firm has a 730-square-foot office and 11 employees.

Cosine doubled its sales last year -- although it wouldn't disclose the amount -- and recently was accepted as a vendor for General Electric's aviation division after GE was featured at a fall symposium on UT's campus.

Ms. Temple, who began working full time with her company in 2007, said the incubator allowed Cosine to grow beyond a home-based business. "It kind of helped get me out of the basement," she said.

Contact Sheena Harrison at: sharrison@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.

Last Updated: 9/22/17