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Annual BIG Marketing & PR Event Slated for Oct. 29

All local marketing and PR rock stars out there: Looking for new tools to sharpen your craft?

Would you like to discover better ways to effectively promote a business venture while enjoying an opportunity to network with others in your wheelhouse?

The seventh annual BIG Marketing & PR Event is where you want to be Oct. 29.

Presented at the Jackson Center, the event is a day-long experience focused on providing strategy-driven marketing and public relations idea and information.

Debra Alfarone, an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and CEO of Debra Alfarone Media, a Washington, D.C.-based video coaching firm, will present the Lunchtime Keynote.

In her presentation, “How to GTFO Your Own Way So You Can Create Anything!”, Alfarone will address the labels and limitations inferred by others and hackneyed storylines people often place on themselves, challenge participants to take inspired action, and create the positive energy needed to attract the right people and opportunities at the right time and place.

Entrepreneurs, small business owners, marketing and PR professionals, nonprofit organizations, and government contractors can benefit from breakout presentations on content management, digital marketing and advertising, modern media myths, creative visual storytelling, how to use video to build brands, and how human resources and marketing can join forces for recruiting.

A networking after-party at Rocket City Tavern will cap off the day’s events.

The BIG Marketing & PR Event is sponsored by Red Sage Communications and co-hosted by The Catalyst and the North Alabama chapter of the Public Relations Council of Alabama.

To register, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-big-marketing-pr-event-tickets-70543578743#

 

Alana Parker of Rocket City Drywall Wears Many Hats

A wearer of many hats, Rocket City Drywall owner Alana Parker shared her triumphs as well as her challenges to a packed house for a recent Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurship series “Strong Coffee, Strong Women” breakfast at the Stovehouse.

“I’m the president, but I’d like to say that I’m also the vice president, secretary, and janitor on demand,” she said.

Alana Parker, owner of Rocket City Drywall. (Steve Babin/Huntsville Business Journal)

Parker is also a recipient of three small business awards – the 2018 Female Entrepreneur of the Year, the 2019 Alabama State Small Business of the Year, and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2019 Small Business Person of the Year.

Rocket City Drywall is one of two Drywall companies in Alabama and the only locally owned and operated supplier in North Alabama. Currently, there are six drywall suppliers in the marketplace in the U.S.

“A lot of people think my competitors are Home Depot and Lowe’s,” said Parker. “They are my customers. The big competitors are much scarier.”

Not only is Parker the youngest owner of a drywall supplier in the United States, she is the only woman in a male-dominated industry. Parker was born in 1985, around the same time her grandfather started  Rocket City Drywall. Originally, the company was on Church Street, where the city’s transportation hub currently sits.

“I learned how to drive a forklift at age 8, this was before OSHA,” laughed Parker.  “We were right on a rail line. I used to climb the stacks of drywall in the train cars.

“Drywall is separated by smaller pieces, called dunnage. My job was to collect the dunnage and throw it off from the train car. As for gender role division of labor, my grandfather never let me know anything different.”

Parker was raised by a single mom in Raleigh, N.C. , but spent her holidays and summers with her grandfather here in Huntsville.

“As soon as school was letting out, my granddad would be there to pick me up for the summer,” said Parker. “My visits to Huntsville slowed down a bit in high school, when I got a car and a boyfriend.”

Parker graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2007 with a degree in English writing, but went to work for her grandfather.

Then, in 2008, the reality of working at a small business in the building industry hit … hard.

“In 2008, Huntsville was the first market to get hit with by the recession, but it was also one of the first to recover,” she said. “Rocket City Drywall took a $600,000 loss in 2010. People say that I was born with a silver spoon, but I was given a silver spoon with a $600,000 price tag on it.”

This setback forced Parker to reach out into the community.

“I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m smart enough to figure it out with help,” said Parker. “The first thing I did was reduce the company from a $6 million company to a $3 million company. This raised a lot of eyebrows.”

Now, she owns the company.

“I bought the company from my grandfather in 2016,” said Parker. “I got an SBA loan. It’s a lot of paperwork, but it provides access to capital when there are limited options.”

Rocket City Drywall had always been a residential construction supplier, but Parker had decided to expand the business to include a commercial division.  Parker spent five years developing the commercial line when tariff restrictions created a volatile market atmosphere, which made supplies often inaccessible.

“I was ready to roll out the commercial product line, but I had to sit back a year and watch and see how people reacted to the tariffs, to see how suppliers were treating customers,” said Parker. “There was no pricing security, how were suppliers going to react? Taking that year to evaluate the market was the best thing I’ve done for the company.”

As the presentation came to a close, Parker added personal bits of insight.

“I am optimistic to a fault,” said Parker. “I’ve never seen a problem that doesn’t have an answer. Stay motivated with faith and family, believe in what you’re doing. Know that sometimes, it’s going to come out of sheer stubbornness.

“The next step is just around the corner.”

breakfast at the Stovehouse.

“I’m the president, but I’d like to say that I’m also the vice president, secretary, and janitor on demand,” she said.

Parker was a speaker for the The Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurshipseries “Strong Coffee, Strong Women.” She is also a recipient of three small business awards – the 2018 Female Entrepreneur of the Year, the 2019 Alabama State Small Business of the Year, and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2019 Small Business Person of the Year.

Rocket City Drywall is one of two Drywall companies in Alabama and the only locally owned and operated supplier in North Alabama. Currently, there are six drywall suppliers in the marketplace in the U.S.

“A lot of people think my competitors are Home Depot and Lowe’s,” says Parker “They are my customers. The big competitors are much scarier.”

Not only is Parker the youngest owner of a drywall supplier in the United States, she is the only woman in a male-dominated industry. Parker was born in 1985, around the same time her grandfather started  Rocket City Drywall. Originally, the company was on Church Street, where the city’s transportation hub currently sits.

“I learned how to drive a forklift at age 8, this was before OSHA,” laughed Parker.  “We were right on a rail line. I used to climb the stacks of drywall in the train cars.

“Drywall is separated by smaller pieces, called dunnage. My job was to collect the dunnage and throw it off from the train car. As for gender role division of labor, my grandfather never let me know anything different.”

Parker was raised by a single mom in Raleigh, N.C. , but spent her holidays and summers with her grandfather here in Huntsville.

“As soon as school was letting out, my granddad would be there to pick me up for the summer,” said Parker. “My visits to Huntsville slowed down a bit in high school, when I got a car and a boyfriend.”

Parker graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2007 with a degree in English writing, but went to work for her grandfather.

Then, in 2008, the reality of working at a small business in the building industry hit … hard.

“In 2008, Huntsville was the first market to get hit with by the recession, but it was also one of the first to recover,” she said. “Rocket City Drywall took a $600,000 loss in 2010. People say that I was born with a silver spoon, but I was given a silver spoon with a $600,000 price tag on it.”

This setback forced Parker to reach out into the community.

“I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m smart enough to figure it out with help,” said Parker. “The first thing I did was reduce the company from a $6 million company to a $3 million company. This raised a lot of eyebrows.”

Now, she owns the company.

“I bought the company from my grandfather in 2016,” said Parker. “I got an SBA loan. It’s a lot of paperwork, but it provides access to capital when there are limited options.”

Rocket City Drywall had always been a residential construction supplier, but Parker had decided to expand the business to include a commercial division.  Parker spent five years developing the commercial line when tariff restrictions created a volatile market atmosphere, which made supplies often inaccessible.

“I was ready to roll out the commercial product line, but I had to sit back a year and watch and see how people reacted to the tariffs, to see how suppliers were treating customers,” said Parker. “There was no pricing security, how were suppliers going to react? Taking that year to evaluate the market was the best thing I’ve done for the company.”

As the presentation came to a close, Parker added personal bits of insight.

“I am optimistic to a fault,” said Parker. “I’ve never seen a problem that doesn’t have an answer. Stay motivated with faith and family, believe in what you’re doing. Know that sometimes, it’s going to come out of sheer stubbornness.

“The next step is just around the corner.”

Entrepreneur Awards Cap Innovate Huntsville Week

Every March, Innovate Huntsville Week is a weeklong, jam-packed event filled with networking, support, collaboration, and the celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit that’s alive and well in the area.

Innovate Huntsville connects entrepreneurs and innovators with local resources to build solid networks and opportunities around Huntsville’s small business economy.

Innovate Huntsville 2019 kicked off with Ignite, the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber-sponsored mixer, providing an opportunity for participants to get acquainted. The week continued with the HudsonAlpha Tech Challenge, Engineer-to-Entrepreneur Tech Roadshow, Small Business Microloan Clinic, Entrepreneur’s Roundtable, the Angels of North Alabama Investment Forum, Urban Engine’s Co-Working Night, a Boost Pitch Competition and R.I.S.E. networking.

Capping off the celebration was the fourth annual Entrepreneur Awards luncheon, presented by the Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurship, at the Campus 805 Stone Event Center.

This year’s winners are:

ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Lee Marshall, founder/CEO of Kids to Love. Awarded to the entrepreneur who has been in business for more than three years and has a proven track record for sustainability, strategic direction, future growth and community involvement.

“There’s an incredible pool of talent in Huntsville,” she said. “And I’m honored to be selected among so many great people doing amazing things in our city!”

CREATIVE ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Rachel Lackey, owner and founder of Green Pea Press. Awarded to a non-technical entrepreneur whose focus is in
the retail, arts, entertainment, or culinary industry and has a proven track record for sustainability.

“I am excited and honored,” Lackey said. “Winning this award feels like a validation of all the hard work that I’ve put in and all the challenges I’ve faced up to this point.

“I appreciate the Catalyst including the creative sector among their honorees; so often we get overlooked in favor of tech entrepreneurism, but I think it’s important to recognize that creatives are the ones on the ground, so to speak, engaging and changing the culture of our community.”

VETERAN ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – LaBerrick Williams, owner of Jell’s 4 Ever BBQ. Awarded to an outstanding military-veteran entrepreneur in the North Alabama region.

“My ‘why’ stems from my late grandparents, Jell and Ever Scruggs, hence, my restaurant’s name – Jell’s 4 Ever BBQ – to carry on their legacy,” Williams said. “Their selfless service and delicious food brought the community together for years. Our intertwined logo J4E is a symbol of their union of 75 years and stands for family, love, togetherness and happiness. This is our ideology for the world.”

EMERGING ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Dr. Morgan L. Goss, Dove Family Health. Awarded to the entrepreneur who has been in business for one to three years and has a proven track record for sustainability with room for growth.

“I do what I do because there is an insatiable desire to see my own people thrive in health,” Goss said. “I desire for my own people have access to affordable, accessible and compassionate health care experiences.”

FEMALE ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Edwina Musante, founder/CEO/president, Cortina Solutions. Awarded to an outstanding female entrepreneur in the North
Alabama Region. The winner of this award will be submitted to the Small Business Administration’s Small Business of the Year Award National Award by the Women’s Business Center.

Their mission is to serve God by serving the country, customers, coworkers, and community with excellence and integrity.

YOUTH ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Joshua Wortham, general manager of Peaceful Pastries & Sweets. Awarded to a school-age entrepreneur, in K-12, who has
started their entrepreneurial journey and business at a young age and is working toward their dream.
“I am a 14-year-old chef who enjoys baking people happy,” Wortham said. “As my bakery continues to grow, I’m even more convinced that entrepreneurs should continue to learn new skills, but also stretch their minds and hearts through collaboration and immersion in the community.”

ENTREPRENEUR CHAMPION OF THE YEAR – Joe Newberry, president/CEO of Redstone Federal Credit Union. Awarded to an individual who has a proven track record of championing for the entrepreneurial journey. This can be through volunteering, mentoring, investing, or collaborating.

PEOPLE’S CHOICE ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Mel Bowers, Mel B Enterprises. This award was determined by social media and overall community popularity.

“Being an entrepreneur has been a great adventure for me,” Bowers said. “Knowing that I set my own pace, create my own path, and that my future is extraordinary. I won’t make excuses, and never will I shun my hard days, they are what made me who I am.  There are no limits to what I can achieve.”

Strong Field of Small Business Owners Highlight 4th Annual Entrepreneur Awards

North Alabama entrepreneurs generate major business in the region while also creating jobs and opportunities for residents.

To salute their efforts and work, the Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurship is hosting the fourth annual Entrepreneur Awards on March 1. The event is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Campus 805, 2620 Clinton Avenue.

The awards luncheon is the grand finale to Innovate Huntsville Week. Voting continues through Friday, Feb. 15. Visit www.innovatehsv.com/entrepreneur-awards.

“This event honors the skill, courage, and determination it takes to create a business from an idea,” said Katie Williams, Women’s Business Center Program Director for The Catalyst. “The awards focus on celebrating the talented entrepreneurs right here in our community and highlight their importance to our region’s economy.”

The top entrepreneurs were chosen by a panel of business leaders and entrepreneurs. There are eight awards to be presented: Entrepreneur of the Year; Emerging – Creative – Female – Veteran – and Youth Entrepreneurs of the Year, along with Entrepreneur Champion of the Year and People’s Choice.

“The Entrepreneur Awards aren’t just for aspiring business owners,” said Michelle Stark, a member of The Catalyst’s Board of Directors. “This event is for the community – those looking to invigorate their entrepreneurial spirit or connect with up-and-comers in our area.”

For tickets and information, visit http://www.innovatehsv.com/entrepreneur-awards/

Rebranded Organization Provides a ‘Catalyst’ to Start a Business

The Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurship serves as a driver for economic growth and job creation in north Alabama by lending its expertise to small business owners at every stage of business development. By providing quality programming, business coaching, and networking opportunities, The Catalyst offers entrepreneurs and startups the tools they need successfully manage their businesses.

Originally founded in 2003 as the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama (WBCNA),  the organization rebranded itself in 2017 as The Catalyst to better represent its services and mission.

“We’ve grown to be more than just a woman’s business center,” said Katie Williams, project manager. “The Catalyst has multiple projects under one umbrella, all with a different focus.”

Those projects include:

WBC: The Women’s Business Center Project serves as a principal source of information and resources; offering in-depth business coaching, entrepreneurial training, small business development and networking opportunities to help women start, expand and successfully manage their businesses.

TechRich: The Technology Regional Innovation Cluster Project provides services to government contractors, innovative, and technology companies. The Catalyst assists in locating, filtering and facilitating business opportunities by encouraging collaboration, innovation, technology transfer, commercialization and contracting opportunities among technology businesses.

HUBZone Accelerator: The HUBZone Accelerator Project serves as a one-stop resource for HUBZone companies to grow, share resources and market their capabilities to prime businesses and government agencies.

HOPE2 for Winston County: The Catalyst’s most recent project initiative. HOPE2 assists with business services in economically disadvantaged communities in west Alabama. Partnered with Valley Innovation Alliance, small business start-ups and entrepreneurs receive much-needed tech assistance and coaching.

BAM:  A business microloan, focuses on giving entrepreneurs and small business start-ups essential financial resources to keep them on track, helping them to take their business to the next level.  This program is a partnership between Redstone Federal Credit Union, Neighborhood Concepts, and The Catalyst. Says Williams, “We’ve seen a big gap between business startups and banks, where there’s a need for financial resources, yet no past performance data available to qualify for business loans.”

The Catalyst offers a variety of business-focused workshops, seminars, and networking events. In partnership with RFCU, they host a series of business seminars in the Atrium on the Wynn Drive campus.

For more information, visit www.catalystcenter.org and www.redfcu.org/seminars

BAM provides a ‘catalyst’ to area small businesses

Small businesses across North Alabama are getting a $5 million boost from a new program that will provide access to $5,000 to $25,000 microloans.

It’s called Business Assistance Microloan (BAM), announced Joanne Randolph, president & CEO of The Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurship, during a Monday morning news conference. BAM is a new way to keep small businesses going and growing through a partnership with The Catalyst, Neighborhood Concepts Inc., and Redstone Federal Credit Union.

Orlando and Tawanda Pitts and their cleaning business, Office Pride, based in Madison, are already a Redstone small business loan success story.

Microloan program announced Monday is a new way to keep small businesses going and growing through a partnership with The Catalyst, Neighborhood Concepts Inc., and Redstone Federal Credit Union.

“We started our company with a dream, a mop bucket and vacuum cleaner,” Orlando said, recalling how a loan officer coached him and his wife through the process. “We only had about five employees at the time … and over the past three or four years we have grown and now have 78 employees.”

He said it was small loans along the way that made the difference.

“That one key, ‘Yes,’ was instrumental in us getting on the right path and helped us grow and turn our thing from a business into a company,” Orlando said. “I knew we were finally in a good place when (the loan officer) called asking if we needed some money.”

Orlando was able to tell him “No.”

“Small businesses make up 94 percent of the companies in the Huntsville metro area,” said Joe Newberry, president and CEO of Redstone Federal Credit Union. “Many of these are small shops and start-ups that need immediate access to microloans to stay afloat until the next big order or contract comes through.”

Newberry said partnering with the two nonprofits to provide a much-needed funding boost will give small businesses a better chance at success.

“I believe it’s a very important element to keep Tennessee Valley businesses growing,” he said.

Emmie Mayne, owner of Lightning and Lace, LLC, based at Lowe Mill in Huntsville, said The Catalyst program she went through prepared her for starting her business in which she uses 3-D printing, sewing and embroidery, among other techniques to create custom pieces for clients.

“Redstone has been with me the whole way and as my business is growing, I’m constantly looking to offer new processes … and that means looking for new and better equipment and as we grow the microloan program … it’s giving me what I need to grow,” she said.

“The real winners today are the small businesses in our community,” said Mary Ellen Judah, executive director, Neighborhood Concepts Inc., (NCI) a nonprofit committed to strengthening neighborhoods through the development of affordable housing and the advancement of economic opportunities in those communities. One tool used to get there is the North Alabama Revolving Loan Fund, which will be used to facilitate BAM.

Redstone is providing a $5 million loan to NCI, which will use the funds to grant loans between $5,000 and $25,000 to small businesses. NCI has other funding options as well that go up to $250,000, Judah said. But it’s the microloans that are often requested by small business owners.

“If we can deploy $5 million in small business loans it is not only substantial to our economy but also to us as a nonprofit,” Judah said. The $5 million loan fund will support itself and help the nonprofit maintain its status as a community development financial institution. NCI was among the first in the state to earn the designation.

Support services for the loans, from application and after it’s granted, will be handled by The Catalyst. A loan clinic will be held the first Tuesday of every month from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at The Catalyst office at 515 Sparkman Drive in Huntsville, Randolph said.

It’s good news for entrepreneurs starting out.

Ariel Foster, founding director of Elyon’s School of Dance and Performing Arts, said the timing of the microloan program has been perfect for her new studio, which will soon have its grand opening in Meridianville.

She said knowing the smaller loans are an option gives her peace of mind and a sense of stability “because of the power of economic partnerships and community building from the inside out.”