DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (December 16, 2022) Saving the fireworks for last, it was a surprise award for a beloved recipient and a generous donation that closed the show for the 5th Annual Entrepreneurs of the Year Awards dinner on Tuesday evening.
Continuing to build on the success of economic development programs created over the past decade, the African American Entrepreneurs Association celebrated more than the nation’s entrepreneurs on December 13th as they gathered in the Dennis McGee Room at the Daytona Beach International Airport.
Recognizing the accomplishments and tenacity of minority entrepreneurs, African American Entrepreneurs Association Founder and CEO Leslie Giscombe and co-host Cynthia Slater, President of the NAACP Daytona Beach Branch, led a spirited evening of accolades for recipients representing the small business community.
Surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues from across the nation, entrepreneurs paused for their moment in the spotlight, graciously supporting each other as names were revealed to guests. Among those recognized was nationally acclaimed photojournalist and documentarian Duane Fernandez, Sr.
“I’m proud of it. I’m honored to have gotten this award,” shared Fernandez, recalling the opportunity to photograph former U.S. President Barak Obama on three occasions, and covering the funeral of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, as some of his most memorable career moments.
Inspiring stories accompanied each award, drawing tears during poignant moments and chuckles during those when recipients took themselves a little less seriously, even if ever so briefly.
Staying to congratulate the winners, Cyrus Callum, Director of Aviation and Economic Resources for Volusia County was pleased to host the event at the airport, offering not just support of the region’s entrepreneurs, but a chance for guests to experience one of Volusia County’s gems.
“It’s foundational. With our economic development ideas and things we want to do for our community, of course expanding small business and giving small businesses the resources in order to prosper, this ground level for us, supporting the African American Entrepreneurs Association,” he said.
“Anything that we can do to expose some of the talent we have there, to expose some of the products they’re putting out in our community, we want to be up front and center with that. I’m definitely honored to be here.”
Myriad Resources Make It Work
Designed with the minority entrepreneur in mind – from people of color to women, the African American Entrepreneurs Association has helped connect aspiring business owners with valuable resources. From training and workshops with top economists and partners at state and federal agencies like the U.S. Small Business Administration, to assisting with access to capital and the hurricane business relief fund, the programs continue to evolve to meet the needs of the AAEA’s members.
Established programs require support for sustainability and financial institutions, especially the nation’s community banks have embraced the opportunity to work alongside an underserved population of the business community to strengthen their chances for success.
Providing the largest donation to date for the African American Entrepreneurs Association, Robert Ludlow, Market President of Truist Bank for Volusia and Flagler counties presented a $30,000 community benefits grant in support of the AAEA’s initiatives.
“As a 28 year banker, in the community we’ve always spent our time at the bank lifting up areas that need support, and the entrepreneurs are the ones that lead job growth,” said Ludlow. “The bank has always been a big supporter in that area of entrepreneurship.”
“In this community we can only help everybody that we can and this was one of the ones that Truist kind of leaned into to help support that in the community.”
The Sky Is the Limit. Or Is It?
After years of success – adding a main office at the Volusia County Incubator in Daytona Beach and a chapters of the AAEA in Gainesville and Palm Coast, Giscombe isn’t slowing down. Through experienced relationship building, AAEA Regional Director Julia Kline Fuentes has expanded the organization’s reach, building a chapter in Alabama, with locations in the southwest and northeast set for development in 2023-24.
“We have some hot spots we’re actually launching into chapters – Dallas, Texas, Alabama, and the DMV (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) region are our top three,” she said.
“We’re launching into Alabama first because I am there. One of the key principles is we have to have the resources available to our mentorship so we’re already working with Auburn University, we’ve reached out to the SBDC, we’re members of a couple of chambers and they’re all open arms excited.”
Giscombe acknowledged the joy of seeing the successful vision thriving.
“We had great honorees and tremendous community outreach. We just loved it,” he said. “The evening was really inspiring.”
As for the surprise recipient, and often the case with many busy entrepreneurs, he almost missed the event. Surprised when his name was called, Coast Dental’s Dr. Vernon Gordon was the evening’s final honoree. A lifelong entrepreneur, he closed the 5th annual awards ceremony, creating a matching pair of awards to accompany the one his wife, Bernice Gordon received as the ‘Mother of an Entrepreneur’ – actress Taraji P. Henson.
“Dr. Gordon’s special because he’s been an entrepreneur for many years. He was so patient with waiting for five years to get his due after his wife received the first one,” Giscombe ribbed good-naturedly.
A Plus Pharmacy: Dr. Bish Mahadeo
African American Museum of the Arts DeLand: Mary Allen, Executive Director
Betsy Notary Services, LLC: Betsy A. Jimenez
Career Image Solutions: Reginald & Hennither Gant
Coast Dental & Orthodontics: Dr. Vernon Gordon
Constance Craig-Mason, Financial Expert: Dr. Constance Craig-Mason
Crab Shack 386: Jimmie & Kiona Gordon
CW Consulting Firm: Dr. Chester Wilson
Entrepreneurial Education & Training Experience: Dr. Sherryl D. Weems, AVP
Fifi’s Beauty Salon and Day Spa: Kim Moten & Ophelia Robinson
Genesis Preferred Solutions: Dr. Cassandra Bradford
Hardnotts Photography: Duane Fernandez, Sr.
Helping Hands Family Chiropractic: Dr. Aneesah N. Farros
Kenneth Grant Inzpirations: James & LaToya Carey
Raising Men Lawn Care, Inc.: Rodney Smith, Jr.
TCC Cleaners & Valet: James & Beth Smith