Forum targets small-business owners

Events aim to create relationships between minorities, tech industry

February 17, 2005|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

Black-tie cocktail parties, CEO schmoozing and a technology job fair for college students.

These are just some of the events that organizer LaRian Finney promises at this week's sixth annual African American Business Forum and Black CEO Summit, starting today at the Baltimore Convention Center.

What began in 2000 as a series of forums for mom-and-pop startups has grown into a three-day event bringing seasoned company executives together with small-business owners hoping to snag a government contract.

Keynote speakers include Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

"We want to help viable businesses make an impact in our communities," said Finney, president of Visionary Marketing Group, one of the event planners. "But they need to know how to play the game."

Finney has teamed up with longtime friend and businessman Tyrone Taborn to combine the summit and business forum with Taborn's annual Black Engineer of the Year Award Conference, in its 19th year.

Taborn's Baltimore-based company, Career Communications Group, works to increase minority recruitment and retention at technology firms.

The events are being billed as a three-for-one and aim to build relationships between leaders in technology industries and aspiring entrepreneurs, who may have never read a spreadsheet.

Organizers hope to attract about 7,000 people from Maryland and surrounding states.

Cedric Tucker attended his first business forum four years ago when his Baltimore business, which offers mental-health case management, was just a year old.

"My biggest question was, where is the money? Where can I find the resources?" he said. "Small-business owners are still learning the basics, how to develop a business plan, staffing, and how to manage their finances."

Tucker said that at the forum he learned how to become a certified minority contractor with the state and made lasting business connections. This year, he's advertising at the events and is looking forward to helping fledgling business owners.

Several sessions will focus on helping minority firms gain state work, under the state's Minority Business Enterprise program, which recently was the subject of comments by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

Schaefer criticized the program, which sets aside 25 percent of contracts for minorities. During a Board of Public Works meeting, he expressed with frustration, "When does MBE end - E.N.D?"

His comments spurred controversy about the administration's commitment to minority businesses.

Ehrlich later said the program should end at some point, but not until the state improves minority access to government work, saying there "continues to be an uneven playing field."

Tucker expects the matter to be a hot topic this weekend.

"I'm hopeful that the MBE program continues," he said. "For small organizations like myself, just having the MBE application helped me make relationships with big organizations that I would have never been able to make."

The events are free and open to the public. For more information or to register: www.vmginc. net or 410-235-4427.

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