New JHU program helps local businesses grow

When Johns Hopkins announced the launch of a pilot program to assist well-established local minority- and women-owned businesses to expand their products or services into areas that position them to do more business with the university and other large employers in the region, officials hoped they'd garner interest from 20 or so applicants. Instead, nearly 50 vendors threw their names into the hat.

In early January, thanks to an $85,000 grant from the Surdna Foundation and pro bono services being provided by Next Street, a modern merchant bank that delivers advisory services to small- and medium-size businesses, four finalists were competitively selected based on their business expansion prospects, as well as on their potential economic development impact on Baltimore City.

These companies will receive intensive, highly skilled advice and guidance to help them grow their businesses by filling in gaps and creating new opportunities in the marketplace. The initiative also functions as another step the university is taking to further enhance and enrich its ties to Baltimore and to become an exemplar of a locally and globally engaged university.

Andy Frank, special adviser to university President Ronald J. Daniels on economic development matters, emphasizes that the vendor accelerator program focuses on established businesses rather than startups, which are addressed by other programs. "The idea is to help grow the local economy and enhance minority and women participation by helping successful businesses grow into new lines of business," he says. "In addition, large enterprises that want to contract with these businesses often have needs that require their vendors to have substantial capacity. Established businesses have a head start in that direction."

To cast a wide net for qualified applicants, the university reached out to organizations with strong connections to the targeted businesses. Among them were the Associated Black Charities, Greater Baltimore Development Corp., Md. Washington Minority Companies Association, and Baltimore Mayor's Office of Minority and Women–Owned Business Development.

The four finalists provide the following products and/or services: waste management and recycling; architectural millwork and related product installation, and general construction contracting; audio and visual design, build, and service; and printing, graphic design, museum displays, and photography services. These establishments, three of them minority-owned and one woman-owned, offer "exciting growth potential with strong ties to Baltimore City," Frank says.

The idea is for the participants to quickly develop and begin to implement a plan for pursuing new strategic growth opportunities with large purchasers. They will have dedicated support from Next Street to overcome growth challenges and also will be able to develop relationships that could lead to new business opportunities. Their business expansion plans are expected to be completed by June.

"We are excited to partner with Johns Hopkins University as it supports the continued growth of local women- and minority-owned businesses," says the Surdna Foundation's Shawn Escoffery, its Strong Local Economies program director. "The university is not only sourcing goods and services from these businesses; it is taking an innovative step as a major, local institution to work directly with women and minority entrepreneurs to actively expand their markets. We are confident that this effort will not only strengthen local businesses but will create much-needed jobs for Baltimore in the process."

"Next Street is proud to partner with JHU to deliver this innovative pilot program," says Brian Cope, managing associate at the bank, "and we're particularly excited to have this opportunity to support the growth of these four businesses, each of which makes important contributions to the Baltimore City community."

The innovative vendor accelerator program, Frank says, is part of Johns Hopkins' commitment to local economic development, local purchasing, and support for minority- and women-owned businesses.

When the pilot concludes in June, the university will evaluate the outcomes to determine whether the program should be continued and, if so, will begin to seek the funding and support services necessary to sustain it.

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