- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2000

Donald Delandro, owner of a janitorial supply company in Northeast, says the formula for entrepreneurial success is all about who you know and who knows you.
And since he got to know some people at the Greater Washington Board of Trade, business has been looking up for Mr. Delandro and many others like him who are so busy running their shops they don't seem to have time to shake a few hands.
"Marketing, that's the most critical thing," said Mr. Delandro, founder and president of Affordable Supply Co. on Burrows Avenue NE in the Marshall Heights neighborhood.
Kateri Ellison, owner and principal designer of Designs by Kateri, a custom clothier along the 14th Street corridor of the Columbia Heights neighborhood, agrees that contacts are key to success in business.
But making contacts and marketing are not so easy for many local small businesses tucked away in lower-income neighborhoods. These businesses could use some help marketing their products and services in other parts of town, and now they are getting it with the help of the Board of Trade.
Ms. Ellison said her client base has doubled in the four years since the Development Corp. of Columbia Heights, working with the
Greater Washington Board of Trade, invited her to join the Community Business Partnership. It is a mentoring project that links small-scale entrepreneurs with board members and more experienced business people from large local companies.
"You can struggle out here for a long time," she said, but the Partnership "put me in contact with career women that need my services and actually expanded the customer base."
"The Board of Trade has been very, very helpful in reaching out to people who would otherwise never know you existed," Mr. Delandro said. "They have raised our level of exposure to people who are in a position to assist us."
The program, which started in 1996, helps minority business owners, many of whom face difficulty getting financing or attracting clients.
"Economic development in cities today is a painstaking process," said Mary Anne Reynolds, spokeswoman for the Board of Trade.
"With three years under its belt, the Community Business Partnership is just building up steam and clearly has more to do," Ms. Reynolds said.
More than 120 companies, all members of the Board of Trade, work with 54 inner-city businesses from custom tailoring to high technology.
Mr. Delandro said the partnership recognizes that high unemployment, low public service and high crime statistics in the inner city could be curbed if businesses are revitalized.
"If they become strengthened, that could have a positive impact on the rest of the community," he said. But strengthening the area and the businesses takes a bit of networking and marketing.
Mr. Delandro said his association with Jerry Sachs, an independent consultant and member of the board, brought him more clients.
"If you're an entrepreneur and you're starting from scratch, you hardly have time to do the marketing and make the connections," Mr. Delandro said.
But the partnership is not just about helping small businesses make money, said Lloyd Levermore, program manager for People's Involvement Corp., which is working with the Board of Trade to revitalize Georgia Avenue.
"We package loans and secure financing for businesses in the Georgia Avenue corridor; we do workshops, seminars," Mr. Levermore said. "We provide a menu of financial and technical assistance to clients along the corridor with the objective of strengthening their operation.
"It's basically trying to import dollars into the neighborhood, which could contribute to generating additional jobs," Mr. Levermore said. "If sales increase, it means the small neighborhood businesses can increase their payroll, and the city and the region become the beneficiary."
Tosha Huff, founder and president of Pioneer Flooring & Design Inc. on H Street in Northeast, wanted help in learning how to bid for government contracts, a wealth of potential revenue, but also an arcane process.
"They called me in, they looked at the business, asked questions about how I got into the business and how I was operating, just basic questions," Ms. Huff said.
With Partnership's help, she was able to secure a contract with the new Washington Convention Center construction project.
Similar programs have been started in other cities such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York, and also in the Mississippi Delta.
Organizers of the Partnership agree that the idea is not simply to help underprivileged businesses, it's a partnership that benefits the mentors, the larger businesses, as well as the ones they help.

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