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On his national syndicated radio show, Michael Baiden often provides the opportunity for entrepreneurs to call in and present their business in 30 seconds or less to a listening audience of thousands and a social media network of more than four million. Most flop within the first couple seconds of the pitch. He also offers basic information on where to go to gain business startup assistance. An entrepreneur striving to give back, he says he believes in the “paying it forward” concept. The 30-second pitch he says serves as an advertising tool for his audience.

PAYING IT FORWARD—Vernard Alexander of the Minority Networking Exchange presents Maria Lee, the winner of the Cherrie Dawkins Business Grant with a $500 check that will assist in promoting her mobile spa business. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)

On a local level, Vernard Alexander, owner of the Minority Networking Exchange lives by the same philosophy. Monthly, he presents the opportunity for entrepreneurs in the Pittsburgh area to introduce their business during an elevator pitch networking event and recently he sponsored the second annual Cherri Dawkins Business Grant competition. Combined, winners left with numerous contacts and the potential to conduct new business with more than 50 entrepreneurs.

“Delivering an elevator pitch is not easy. Even I mess up,” he relates laughingly telling how he froze and became a wall flower while attending an event with Vice President Joe Biden. “I felt intimidated by the people around me, their power and prestige.”

Described as a concise, carefully planned, and well-practiced description about your company, Alexander said everyone should be able to define who they are or what they do quickly.

The winner of his Elevator Pitch competition, Adrienne Brown, the owner of Adrienne’s Sassy Gourmet did just that. She defined her product as a unique gourmet barbecue and dipping sauce enjoyed by her family for nearly 14 years. Made with all natural ingredients, Brown said her sauce consists of four degrees of heat, starting with serene which everyone can eat and ending with sassy, for those who enjoy taking a walk on the spicy side. The sauce can be purchased at the East End Food Coop on Mead Street and from her Website http://www.asassy­gourmet.com.

Others that participated in the competition were Sharon Lee Myers, The Children of Promise After School Program; Curtis Brown, Jireh Mobile; Debra Williams, Cakes by the Pound; Susan Erin, Zango; Lawrence Bernard, Seven Seal International and James Hancock, Accounting Business Solutions.

For the exclusive purpose of assisting small business owners and nonprofit entities in need of financial assistance, the Cherrie Dawkins Business Grant, Alexander says is intended to encourage growth, provide motivation, and promote a spirit of independent enterprise and philanthropy in this region. In its second year, the business grant is in honor of Alexander’s grandmother who passed away at the age of 79 several years ago. “My grandmother played a vital role in my life. She encouraged me to work hard and to help and give back to others.”

Maria Lee, the winner of the $500 business grant says she plans to utilize her winnings to expose Beauty Bar Express to a wider market. “I want to be able to use this grant for marketing and promotional purposes by publishing brochures, flyers, gift certificates and posters,” she said.

Lee described Beauty Bar Express as Pittsburgh’s premiere mobile spa, a full-service mobile spa that embodies beauty, health, pampering and reflection. She describes its mission as empowering women by enhancing their beauty, boosting their confidence, and providing support and relief. Her services include facials, deep tissue massages, hot stone therapy massages, manicures, pedicures, eyebrow waxing and make-up application. Her goal is to support various charities such as Breast Cancer Research.

In its fourth year, the MNE strives to increase the amount of successful minority owned businesses in the Greater Pittsburgh area and the United States. Providing a support system for minority business owners, Alexander believes that networking is the key to success. He has used traditional and nontraditional methods to provide opportunities for its members. Activities have included credit restoration workshops, tax tip seminars; net worth networking events, speed networking events, the elevator pitch competition and a Doing Business with the Government/How to get certified as an M/W/D/B Owner workshop. Fun activities have consisted of bowling, horseback riding, murder mysteries, book club events, Friday Night Live and Happy Hour events, Salsa Night, wine tasting networking events, spoken word events, photo networking, a night at Kiln-n-Time Pottery Studio, networking at the casino, and the MNE Golf Outing.

With more than 50 members of various types of businesses, Alexander says one of his objectives is to get the entrepreneurs working together to help one another. His ultimate goal is for each to utilize one another’s services to maximize their purchasing power and the potential of each group member personally and professionally.

An avid user of social media tools, Alexander says his 2011 goal is to use his Face Book network more effectively to market and promote the services of those in business.

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