MED Week Showcases Innovative Energy Initiatives by Minority Entrepreneurs

Minority Enterprise Development Week 2009 was a great opportunity to celebrate “Energizing the American Economy with Minority Business Enterprises.” I attended a panel on Thursday morning, August 27 (following an excellent keynote address by Earvin “Magic” Johnson) that featured, as moderator, Derek Dingle, Editor in Chief of Black Enterprise magazine; Aubyn Thomas, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Macy’s; Adrienne T. White, Senior Manager for the African American Market for WalMart and Sam’s Club; and Joseph James of Agri-Tech Producers, LLC.

Joe James’s business, the only small business represented on the panel, particularly caught my attention. Agri-Tech is commercializing a technology “using extreme heat on biomass in a low-oxygen environment…to produce a fuel that is easier to transport and store and is carbon neutral.”

Mr. James, an economic developer by trade for more than 30 years, was astute in obtaining the license to commercialize the technology, which was developed at North Carolina State University in Raleigh and is being manufactured by a partner firm—one of several candidates he interviewed. He encouraged entrepreneurs, particularly those interested in energy industries, to work with the Departments of Energy and Agriculture, with Biomass Councils and with the American Association of Blacks in Energy to learn more about developing their products.

Other innovative ideas surfaced during the Q&A. In response to a question from a small business owner interested in retrofitting large spaces for better energy efficiency, both Adrienne White and Aubyn Thomas encouraged participation in their supplier diversity programs. Adrienne said that mega-retailers WalMart and Sam’s Club are moving toward producing “100 percent zero waste” and becoming energy self-sufficient. They are also finding ways to use local and locally grown products by turning some supplier decision making over to local stores. It’s a way for small businesses to participate as suppliers, and possibly to grow toward larger markets.

— Kathryn Tobias, Senior Editor