GREAT JOB—Willie and Nicole Coleman (center) appreciate the presentations made by Vernard Alexander of the Minority Networking Exchange and Ralph Watson of Classic Events after their presentations during their Business Seminar in Coraopolis. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)
Last year when Nicole Coleman won the Minority Networking Exchange’s elevator pitch competition she was unknown within the Pittsburgh entrepreneur community. Since then she has built a network of resources that she shares with other business owners.
Based in Aliquippa, Coleman understands the significance of networking and doing business from county to county, throughout the state and beyond. “Today businesses have to be prepared to do business not just locally but on a global level,” she points out.
With the goal to educate and provide opportunities for existing and potential entrepreneurs to meet people and to gain resources, Coleman recently sponsored her second in a series of business seminars. Held in Coraopolis she views the location as a central area for people in Pittsburgh and Aliquippa to get to. Looking to do a sequence of seminars throughout this year she says topics will embrace issues pertinent to business growth and development. “We are looking at doing something on public relations and marketing, the significance of using social media to grow your business and the advantage of multi-level marketing businesses.”
The topic of her mid-January seminar was the advantage and benefits of networking. Ralph P. Watson of Classic Events and Vernard Alexander of the Minority Networking Exchange were the featured presenters.
Watson pushed his motto of “increasing your network…increases your net worth,” as the focus of his discussion. “Business is all about networking. In my 54 years I have accomplished many things. I’ve been in politics and involved in community work, but would not have been successful in any of it if it weren’t for meeting people and meshing my networks together.”
He also encouraged the audience to form strategic alliances and collaborations to take their communities over. “We can only do it by working together. We have to continue to join professional organizations and grass roots groups like the NAACP to be successful and to create prosperous communities.”
In his closing remarks, he encouraged the audience to always be an inspiration to others. He mentioned the many award programs he has been sponsoring as his way of bringing awareness and exposure while connecting both business and organizations to community stake holders and elected officials.
February 9 through Classic Events he is sponsoring a Black History Month event, “Saluting the African-American Experience in Wilkinsburg” at the Hosanna House. “This is my way to salute and say thank you to “Wilkinsburg first,” those who have opened doors for me and others.”
Watson describes Classic Events as a business development, public relations, marketing group committed to actively encourage business and economic development while supporting the efforts of entrepreneurs and small business to expand their reach.
Alexander, known as the “networking king” assisted the audience in developing their elevator pitch. “While networking, it is important to communicate and to sell yourself to others in a succinct quick manner.” He defined an “elevator pitch” as a concise, carefully planned, and well-practiced description about your company that an investor or customer should be able to understand during an elevator ride. Admitting that it has taken him a long time to develop his pitch he said as a business description it should describe your product or service, your market, your revenue model, your competition and how you are different.
Alexander also touched on ways to finance startups. Pointing out that there are many ways to consider when looking to finance a business, he reminded the audience that each situation is different. Noting that banks and other financial institutions have been the traditional source of funding that people have depended on he says that today’s economic situation has made it harder to secure startup money. “Research is imperative in all aspects of starting a business, but finding funding sources is even more essential,” he informed. “Funding can come from governmental agencies, area loan programs, venture capitalists, and family and friends,” said Alexander identifying a few sources. Leaning towards bootstrapping, reinvesting in ones self and as an advocate of social media, he suggests looking at online opportunities. Three sites he likes are; indiegogo.com, kickstarter.com and changmakers.com.
Like Watson, Alexander often sponsors events geared toward educating and providing networking opportunities. The Minority Networking Exchange serves as a support system to business owners. Founded in 2006, MNE strives to increase the amount of successful minority owned businesses in the Greater Pittsburgh area. It uses traditional and nontraditional methods to provide opportunities within the Black, corporate and varies other communities.
Pleased with the results of the seminar, Coleman said, “I like the work Ralph and Vern do in the business community. They eat, sleep and breathe what they do. I felt they would be good to kick off the 2013 season.” She also was uplifted by the mix of Pittsburgh and Aliquippa entrepreneurs that attended. Scanning the room she pointed out established and startup businesses.
“It is good to see everyone networking and making connections.”
As serial entrepreneurs, Nicole and her husband Willie know the importance of seeking out assistance as well as giving back to the community. Together they operate four businesses while holding down full time jobs. In addition she operates Shirley’s Shaking and Baking, the business that won the MNE elevator pitch competition with her mother Shirley Fletcher. The business, according to Coleman sells a variety of bake goods specializing in cinnamon and dinner rolls.
Their other businesses are One Perfect Life; a subsidiary of Amway, Tastefully Simple and most recently Legal Shield. Willie also owns Visual Concepts, a visual concept business.
“Nicole and Willie are true examples of what entrepreneurship is about. I enjoy working with them and feel honored that they respect the work I do with MNE. It is because of people like them that I do what I do,” points out Alexander. “I look forward to their upcoming events.”