Tell us a little bit about your company and yourself.
I started my business almost seven years ago out of a grieving process; I lost a close relative to HIV/AIDS. The frustration that I had from being the primary care giver to him is that we couldn’t find the right medicines and the right access to good health care back then. I felt it was quite daunting and frustrating. Several years later, after hitting some major obstacles in my pretty successful life, I decided I really wanted to go back and do something to make a difference in health care. I wanted to help folks in my position to have access to the best medicines and health care.
That’s why I started my company, A-10. We have two major divisions, one being clinical research, and the other is our clinical care division. We are a full-service clinical service firm. We are based out of Raleigh, North Carolina. I have about 250 employees.
How did you start your company?
I think I really am the epitome of the traditional entrepreneur. I started my company organically, using savings, I had a mortgage on my house, I made a lot of mistakes, went through a lot of cash, and I really got my first break through a client of ours that is still a client. So, it’s really organically and through hard work, strong networking, and of course doing a quality, superior job in the work that we did.
What gave you the incentive to start your own business?
I was very successful at a large consulting firm, and I was thinking, wow, if I’m successful here I could be successful in my own business. But really, it was the passion of loved ones that have died that really fuels me. The incentive is to gain economic independence for the company and for our employees, but also driving our mission forward of helping to heal the world.
What have been the challenges in starting a business?
When starting my business, [the challenge] was trying to manage the cash flow, because I was using my own money, and secondly is gaining the credibility. When you’re in a clinical research company, you have to win business on your reputation because if you don’t deliver it well, or in compliance with the law, i.e. the FDA regulations, then people can get hurt, they can die. So starting off, it was building the credibility to say, yes, this simple girl from New Jersey can run a clinical research organization.
In the climax of our company, which was last year, when we hit $20 million, that was probably trying to control the growth. Meaning that there are entirely different challenges when people are trying to grow a company, but in parallel, when your company is growing too fast, there are also some challenges. I had to put a great leadership team in very quickly, and also control growth so that we are strategic and we are in an area that can sustain us for years to come.
Why is it important for minorities and women to be economically
Caucasians net worth now is $113,000, while African Americans is $6,000. Mexican-Americans is $7,000. So hence, how are we going to grow black businesses so that they can achieve economic independence when average net worth is $6,000. If your net income is $6,000, that means you probably don’t even have a house. And typically when you’re an entrepreneur, you give your house up as collateral. If we continue to live this way, and communities of color are the ones that suffer the most in an economic downturn, then we are not going to pass wealth from generation to generation and we will be in this cycle of economic disadvantage if we continue this way.
Why do you think your company has constantly been at the top of African-American-owned and women-run business lists?
I think it is because of our trajectory’s growth. We have grown tremendously quickly. And the reason why we have grown is because we look, we feel, and we act differently than our competitors. The investment world is looking at us, [saying] they are focused, but they are diversified in their focus.
How do you encourage women and minorities to start their own companies and be economically independent?
Not everyone should be an entrepreneur. You have to be a special type of person. You have to be a little crazy. You have to be comfortable with risk. You have to always know that there are things you won’t know and be ok with that, and not everyone is equipped that way. In reality, entrepreneurs are the last ones to get paid. You have to be able to live with uncertainty. I don’t encourage everyone, but the people I do, the advice I give to them, is that if you’re a minority, and you’re a woman, there is no excuse, and if you have the passion and foresight to own your business, there is no excuse to not be successful. There are so many government programs that support you in growing your business, and they are readily available to you.
If you had to pick two, what traits are most important in being an
Number one is you must believe in what you’re doing. And number two, you have to be comfortable with uncertainty. Be able to be creative with finances.
What is the most important issue facing the African-American
We don’t have economic independence. It’s frustrating. Black women are going into business twice the rate of any other [demographic]. According to the Center of Research, we are going out of business triple the rate. Why is that? Of course, the common access to capital, meaning that you can’t do much when your median income is $6,000. And number two, African-American women generally are so overcommitted of other things they have to support, like church activities, volunteer work, and children. We, as African-American women, have always been looked at as the anchor for everything, between family, between community, between church, and sometimes those commitments can be in direct conflict with growing a business.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about your success?
I don’t feel that I’m successful. I feel like I’m on a journey. I’m on this journey to make a difference in the world in which I reside. It’s not going to be until the journey is over that I can determine if I’ve made that positive effect. People define success as money or notoriety; I don’t define success that way. I define success that at the end of your lifetime, if you have strangers who may not have known you directly being able to say that this person made a positive difference in my life, that’s when you can define success. There are so many people that are very successful, and then they can do one thing to turn that around into a negative. I’m very careful about giving myself or anybody else any credit; you’re not going to know until at the end of the day when you finally rest if you’ve really truly made a difference.