William Teel went from writing software for the Department of Energy after college to taking over the department’s entire IT infrastructure. His company, 1 Source Consulting, runs everything from cyber security to help-desk support for the DOE and has climbed from No. 76 on last year’s Inc. 500 to No. 68 this year, with revenue of $196 million.
Fez Ogbazion immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia in 1982 and he started his first business, Instant Refund Tax Service, in his sophomore year of college. After selling to a Fortune 500 company, he used the money to start Instant Tax Service, which now operates at a much larger scale than his dorm room venture with over 1,200 locations in 34 states.
Since the age of 12, Andre Gudger has been an “ethical hacker.” In addition to a fascination with computer programming, he was generally studious growing up. “I took every book home from my locker from 6th grade through my senior year in high school,” he says. Though he developed a desire to be an entrepreneur in his teens it wasn’t until his graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that he really got a taste of the business world. He took classes in locales as far flung as China, Mexico, and Brazil, learning about venture capital, corporate ethics, and global operations. All this set the stage for Gudger to launch the IT and consulting firm Solvern Innovations in 2003. Now the company has revenue of over $12 million.
Edgar Smith acquired the entrepreneurial drive at a young age, growing up surrounded by his parents’ small business ventures. Though his father was a veterinarian who oversaw meat inspection for the USDA and his mother was a teacher, Smith’s parents also owned a radio station and a stake in Detroit City Cab, a group of African-American taxi drivers and owners founded in 1928. Smith saw that his parents’ endeavors required a lot of work but “in exchange for freedom and flexibility.” In 2004, the paper industry veteran founded World Pac Paper, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based distributor of printing and packaging papers.
At the age of five, Magdalah Silva and her family traveled from Port-au-Prince, Haiti to the United States for her father’s job with the state department. In her new school, her “complicated” name and French accent made her feel insecure and removed from the other children. In 1994, Silva and her husband Daniel founded DMS International, which provides IT services to government and commercial clients. One of the biggest challenges for Silva is “trying not to bring work home.” She adds, “We have not been successful at that yet” but a shared vision and understanding of our roles within the company really helps.
Raised by blue-collar parents in Niagara Falls, New York, Gregory Celestan wanted a ticket out of town and he needed a way to pay for college. He enrolled in West Point Military Academy and became a foreign area officer, someone who studies the language and culture of a region for military intelligence, specializing in Russian studies. In 2004, Celestan retired having served 20 years and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. He recalls watching large defense contractors at work and thinking “I can do that better,” so after the end of his service he founded Celestar, which provides intelligence support to government organizations. Though larger companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing do a lot of similar contract work, Celestan says, “the government likes working with small companies like us because we’re flexible.” The challenge is building a team with both the technical expertise and the security clearance.
You might not recognize Marcell Haywood but you’ve likely seen his company’s work. Dirt Pros EVS provides custodial, facilities and maintenance service to customers that include airports, office buildings, colleges, and restaurants. At the age of 22, Haywood co-founded the company with Antwuan Dixon, a member of his Florida State University basketball team. Haywood says that he and Dixon were separated from their partying peers because they “had a deliberate work ethic and wanted to build something of our own as opposed to climbing the corporate ladder.”
Most people could tell you the price of a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread at their grocer’s but Bobby Blackwell (pictured) is intimate with the price tags of airplanes, submarines and automobiles. Blackwell founded GS5, which helps the government with acquisition and budgeting for military equipment, with Darrell Childs (pictured), Michael Wood, and John Gorsuch. Their organization helps the Department of Defense articulate the requirements for their big ticket items to legislators and Blackwell says, the job presents the “satisfying challenge of framing issues in a way that people will understand it and embrace your ideas. When they get it and support it that can be very rewarding.”
Michael Battle has taken all the Small Business Administration’s assessment tests for entrepreneurial inclination and he has failed every one of them. So somebody should explain to the SBA how the 49 year-old Oklahoma-born CEO came to found Battle Resource Management, which provides consulting services to help federal and commercial organizations attain their missions and cut costs. One source of Battle’s inspiration was his father who was the first person of color in Oklahoma to get an advanced degree, but another experience that spurred him on was his first job out of college working for IBM. “That’s what drove me to start this company,” Battle says. I never found a company culture and sense of empowerment equivalent to IBM in the mid-80s.