A Big Night for Client Next Play 360° and Scoot Henderson
The Georgia MBDA Business Center congratulates Scoot Henderson and his parents, Crystal and Chris Henderson, co-founders of portfolio client Next Play 360°, for Scoot’s selection in June by the Portland Trail Blazers as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Scoot, formerly the youngest player in the NBA G-League, spent the past two years playing for the G-League team Ignite.
Next Play 360° is dedicated to developing the whole person through a robust program that focuses on four core pillars: athletics, academics, leadership, and community. Through this program, Next Play 360° helps student athletes like Scoot become as competitive in the classroom as on the court and change what they think is possible for their futures.
“We could not be more thrilled for Scoot, Crystal, and Christ Henderson,” said Jennifer Pasley, the Georgia MBDA Business Center’s project director.
The Center has been working with Next Play 360° to secure SBA financing to purchase a multi-sports complex in Marietta, Georgia.
“Through our work with Next Play 360°, we have been fortunate to have a front-row seat to Scoot’s incredible NBA journey, and we wish him the best of luck in this exciting new endeavor.”
Taunton got his start recruiting with a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company in sales and human resources as the southeast recruiting manager. After ten years, he went to work at an international executive search firm recruiting C-suite and high-paying positions in the healthcare sector, where “he never saw people of color or women” as part of the pipeline search pool, he said. When he started his own recruiting and professional staffing firm, he set out to change that. “My goal was executive recruiting, concentrating on diversity. Every engagement that we worked on, there would be a diverse slate of candidates,” he said.
The Royster Group is a certified minority-owned business founded in 2001. Since then, its focus on diversity has garnered business success. The company has expanded from a one-person shop to 80 employees. In 2008, Royster’s revenue was $2 million; today, it is more than $20 million.
The Royster Group’s growth caught the attention of the SBA, which singled Taunton out for the award from among nine nominations in Georgia.
“What made Ken stand out was the phenomenal growth his business had,” said Terri Dennison, district director of the SBA Georgia District Office, “not only growth in the number of employees but also growth in sales and profits. It’s an example of how SBA and other business development resources can make a difference in a small business’s long-term success.”
Taunton, too, credits SBA and other resources for his success. In 2008, he was part of SBA’s inaugural emerging leaders’ program for business executives, e200. That program helped him navigate the Great Recession and pivot to securing federal contracts. He’s also a graduate of the SBA 8(a), a program that helps small, disadvantaged businesses secure federal contracts.
He decided in 2006 to expand his business, which had focused on corporate recruiting, into recruiting for the federal government in an effort to diversify. That’s when the Georgia MBDA Business Center got involved. “The Center helped me with my business plan, business development, and my strategy on how to get into the government sector, and with proposals, because the government space is a whole different animal,” Taunton said. “The Georgia MBDA Business Center was instrumental in helping me get into that space.”
The Royster Group has maintained its relationship with the Georgia MBDA Business Center since 2002. The Center is part of his proposal team, he said, reviewing them before submissions to ensure all the “Is are dotted, and the Ts are crossed.”
“Ken is a great choice to represent Georgia as Small Business Person of the Year,” said Donna Ennis, operator representative of the Georgia MBDA Business Center. She has worked with Taunton for more than a decade to help scale his company. “We’ve done a lot of strategic growth work with him and his team. We’ve recommended training, programs, and resources. We’ve become a trusted advisor as he grows his business, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for him.”
The Royster Group currently does a lot of work with the Defense Health Agency (DHA) and Department of Defense, staffing hospitals on military bases across the country. “That’s what got us through COVID,” Taunton said. “We had these long-term contracts that were mission essential, meaning that regardless of what happens in the world, they’re always going to need the healthcare providers and contractors we employ. The Georgia MBDA Business Center has been instrumental in ensuring that we continue to be ready and able to do business in the government sector.”
Federal labs, including facilities such as the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee, MIT Lincoln Lab in Massachusetts, and the Agricultural Resource Service, have technology transfer as part of their missions. This means that, like the work of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, leaders in federal labs don’t want to do research for the sake of research. They are working to improve people’s lives, and they need businesses and organizations to help transfer their research technology into the real world to further that mission.
Enter Donna Ennis, the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s director of diversity engagement and program development, co-director of the Georgia Artificial Intelligence Manufacturing Corridor (Georgia AIM), and operator representative for the Georgia Minority Business Development Agency Business Center. It’s a lot of hats for one person to wear, and she wore them all as she spoke at the national Federal Laboratories Consortium (FLC) conference — a sort of national trade association meeting — in Cleveland, Ohio, in March.
She was asked to present on one of her areas of expertise — connecting people and businesses with the right resources.
“I discussed Georgia AIM and tech transfer,” she said. Georgia AIM, a new initiative — funded by a $65 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) — supports a statewide effort to combine artificial intelligence and manufacturing innovations with transformational workforce and outreach programs.
“Federal labs are looking for ways to collaborate with minority-owned businesses. I talked about helping us identify the labs that focus on AI technology and advanced manufacturing, so that we could work more closely with those labs for Georgia AIM, and perhaps identify businesses that could do tech transfer. Labs are really interested in technology transfer. They’re doing all this research, and they want to be able to transfer that technology out of the federal labs. We’re in conversations about it, including with some of the people I met at the session.”
Ennis sees attendance at conferences like FLC as vital to her work.
“Because I’m in a new role, I’m focused on getting national exposure for Georgia AIM and making the strategic relationships that are necessary,” she said. “Federal labs could be a huge component with regard to identifying technology that could then be transferred into Georgia companies.”
The Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Brandy Nagel is part of a team that received $100K to study racial bias in infrared medical devices
Brandy Nagel, program manager for the Georgia Minority Business Development Agency Business Center, attended what she thought was an information session on artificial intelligence for social justice. Three hours later she was part of a team that brought home $100,000 to study and correct racial bias in infrared medical devices.
Temporal (forehead) thermometers and pulse oximeters became everyday pieces of medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. But studies show these devices and others that use infrared technology are not as accurate when used on people with darker skin as they are on people with lighter skin. Pulse oximeters miss low oxygen levels in 11% of Black patients and temporal thermometers miss 23% of fevers in Black patients. These inaccuracies have immense public health implications, not just in the U.S., but around the world.
“I showed up because it was described as artificial intelligence for social justice,” Nagel said about the AI.Humanity with a Social Justice Lens Pitch Competition. “I know almost nothing about AI, but I understand social justice as a problem to be solved. I thought the event would help me understand how AI can be applied.”
“When I got there, there was a conversation already going, so I joined a group,” she said. “We were talking about a problem and how AI could be applied to solve that problem. And then the organizers said, go to your breakout rooms. You’ve got 45 minutes to write your pitch.”
Despite knowing little about the medical technology under discussion, Nagel knew she could contribute to the team. “I know about pitches, and I know how to prepare for a pitch,” she said. She was able to help hone the idea for the pitch committee.
Isbell was drawn to the event because of the opportunity to explore using AI for the good of humanity.
“In much of the news, people are concerned about how AI is taking jobs or about bias in AI,” Isbell said. “But I was interested in working with other people to see how we can use AI to help. I was also interested because it’s a collaboration between Georgia Tech and Emory, and we’ll be doing something in the health and wellness sphere, which I really love to do.”
With Nagel at the white board, the team mapped out its approach. “We talked about where would we get the data? Because this is something where the data is a significant part of figuring out how to solve the problem,” Nagel said. “Is the solution in how the device is designed? Or is the solution in a different policy? We don’t know.”
Isbell’s forte is dealing with data, making her an integral part of a team that has so many different perspectives, a strength that made them successful in their pitch, she said.
“We had sociologists. We had an anesthesiologist. We had someone who does AI. I do data,” she said. “It was important that we had the diversity of thought and experience in our team for this project. If we could help doctors know about what their devices are doing, then they can make better decisions. We don’t want people to mis-interpret the signals about their patients, therefore causing more health disparities.”
Following the 45-minute discussion period, the team was ready. The pitch covered three objectives with the goal of creating more equitable medical devices:
Perform a systematic review of infrared technologies and devices that are currently used in healthcare systems to understand the scope of the problem.
Conduct a pilot observational study to measure the discrepancy between the information provided by infrared medical devices and that of gold standard devices.
Develop an AI algorithm to calibrate medical device measurements with skin pigmentation using results from the pilot study.
With the pitch competition won, what happens next?
Nagel, who isn’t a medical device expert, does understand design thinking. “The first step of design thinking is empathy,” she said, “deeply understand the customer or the beneficiary’s experience, not just their point of view, but what they experience. In this case, the beneficiary might be a patient, but it could also be a medical professional who’s trying to quickly triage in an emergency room and figure out who needs attention first.
“One thing that I think is exciting about this is that our team can be informed by going into an emergency room and seeing how this works,” she said. “What’s the real-world experience that may help inform how we solve the problem? I think it’s AI. But I think there’s also going to be a personal touch.”
A second team also won $100,000 for its pitch AI-Assisted Social Justice in Tissue and Organ Biomanufacturing. The team, comprised of both Georgia Tech and Emory researchers, will use domain-specific AI-based approaches to develop tissue bioprinting processes that are optimized for patients of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“I think what really intrigued me about this is that I saw it as a solvable problem and something that could have a significant impact,” Nagel said. “The pulse oximeter and the forehead thermometer, these two devices were used to help diagnose millions of people with COVID, particularly in the early days of the pandemic. If we look back on the deaths, and we see that a disproportionate number of darker skinned people died, then we might say it was because of a bad diagnostic tool. That sounds like an important problem to solve.”
Long-time Georgia MBDA Business Center director to focus on building community engagement to support artificial intelligence in manufacturing effort
When the Georgia Institute of Technology received a $65 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration in September 2022, it was clear that changes would have to be made to support the huge grant.
One top-level change involves Donna M. Ennis, C.P.F., who led the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Georgia Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center for 18 years. Now, Ennis will co-direct the Georgia Artificial Intelligence Manufacturing Technology Corridor (GA-AIM), as it implements nine projects around the state that are funded by the record-shattering grant. Aaron Stebner, associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering will co-direct GA-AIM with Ennis, and Thomas R. Kurfess, executive director of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute will serve as advisor to the project.
GA-AIM will support a statewide initiative to combine artificial intelligence and manufacturing innovations with transformational workforce and outreach. The grant will increase job and wage opportunities in distressed and rural communities and among historically underrepresented and underserved people. The focus on artificial intelligence in manufacturing is interesting to Ennis, who, as the leader of the Georgia MBDA Business Center, launched a national summit for minority-owned manufacturing enterprises in 2016.
“I thought that was an underserved and overlooked area in the minority business community,” she said about the start of the National MBE Manufacturers Summit. “It’s the only summit of its kind. Minority manufacturers and corporations come for matchmaking meetings, education, and to experience new technology.”
Her experience with minority communities, which was recently honored by the Greater South Fulton Chamber of Commerce with its Partnership Award, also dovetails well with her new position, which will focus on community engagement.
“I was focused on minority businesses for years,” Ennis said. “But we have other communities that also need to be served. I’m excited about being able to work with all of our programs within the Enterprise Innovation Institute and some that are not in our group, to figure out how we engage communities from K to gray.”
With so many different audiences and communities to engage, Ennis is charged with creating opportunities that lead to meaningful connections that will truly get folks involved and wanting to participate.
“Donna’s experience building community for the Georgia MBDA Business Center and her knowledge of manufacturing in Georgia made her the obvious choice to co-lead GA-AIM,” said David Bridges, vice president of the Enterprise Innovation Institute. “This project is an important step in the equitable development and deployment of innovation and talent in the state. I’m excited to see her moving the project forward for Georgians.”
Ennis’s first mission is to develop a community engagement model that will be used around the state from Atlanta to Augusta to Macon to Southwest Georgia to bring businesses, communities, and people on board. She anticipates a model that can then be replicated for other projects in the future. And that’s just the beginning.
“We’re very entrepreneurial at the Enterprise Innovation Institute,” Ennis said about her enthusiasm for this new project. “We like making something from nothing, and GA-AIM is the perfect opportunity for us to showcase our innovative thinking.”
Grant to be used to train food and beverage entrepreneurs in underserved communities in best practices
The pandemic upended the food and beverage industries in ways that are just coming to light, such as the destruction of the peer and mentoring networks new entrepreneurs rely on to learn how to grow their businesses from basement to production.
To help rebuild those essential learning networks and revive some of the training they once offered, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded a three-year, $550,000 grant to Georgia Tech’s Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP).
GaMEP, housed in the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s economic development arm, will train food industry entrepreneurs in Georgia and the U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico in food safety practices and regulations. The grant funding will also be used to train the trainers, which will help rebuild those critical networks.
This is the largest sponsored grant the Enterprise Innovation Institute has received from USDA, marking the importance of the food sector in Georgia.
“The food manufacturing industry is a focus area for GaMEP, as it is the largest manufacturing industry sector in Georgia,” said GaMEP Director Tim Israel. “We have increased our food-industry specific services significantly over the past five years, and this grant will allow us to expand our reach to serve more small and underserved companies to coach them on safe and efficient production processes that will help them grow.”
Expanding GaMEP’s reach to minority and underserved populations is an essential element of the grant.
“The purpose of this grant is to provide free — and this was really important to us — free food-safety training,” said Wendy White, industry manager, food safety and quality, at GaMEP and grant manager. “We’re also coupling that with business development training.”
The training will be focused on entrepreneurs in underserved communities in metro Atlanta, Middle and South Georgia, and Puerto Rico, all areas that have experienced a lot of growth in the food sector.
“Puerto Rico has this amazing cultural heritage around food. Because it is an island, they have concerns about food sovereignty — that is, making enough food to support themselves,” said Brandy Nagel, co-manager on the grant and program manager in the Georgia Minority Business Development Agency Business Center at the Enterprise Innovation Institute. “Part of why we’re including Puerto Rico in this grant is to build capacity on the island for food entrepreneurs to be safe and to scale up their businesses so that they can be successful and profitable.”
The grant also includes funding for capacity building, in the form of train-the-trainer education in the three regions. “Our trainers will continue to disseminate this information to their communities after we’re gone,” White said. “What’s exciting about that is that it will continue to have impact for years to come as more entrepreneurs get this training, which will only serve to strengthen the ecosystem.”
Learn more about GaMEP’s commitment to food manufacturing companies in minority and underserved communities in this video.
About the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech is a program of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, whose purpose is to help manufacturers improve their performance in the global market. GaMEP offers coaching and training in operational excellence, technology implementation, leadership and strategy, marketing, energy management, and sustainability, to manufacturers across the state to help increase top-line growth, reduce bottom-line costs, and boost the economic well-being of Georgia. GaMEP is part of the MEP National Network, a unique public-private partnership that delivers comprehensive, proven solutions to U.S. manufacturers, fueling growth and advancing U.S. manufacturing. To learn more, visit gamep.org.
About the Georgia MBDA Business Center As part of a national network of 64 centers and special projects funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), the Georgia MBDA Business Center helps minority business enterprises (MBEs) obtain capital, access markets and business opportunities domestically and globally, increase profitability, and scale operations. By providing technical assistance, coaching, education, and contacts, the center has helped MBEs create more than 7,000 jobs, and achieve nearly $6.4 billion in contracts and finance, while remaining competitive economic engines in their respective markets. To learn more, visit georgiambdabusinesscenter.org.
About the Enterprise Innovation Institute The Enterprise Innovation Institute, the Georgia Institute of Technology’s economic development unit, serves all of Georgia through a variety of services and programs that build and scale startups, grow business enterprises, and energize ecosystem builders. As the nation’s largest and most comprehensive university-based economic development organization, the Institute’s expertise and reach are global; its innovation, entrepreneurship, and ecosystem development programs serve governments, universities, nonprofits, and other organizations worldwide. In 2021, the Enterprise Innovation Institute served more than 15,500 businesses, communities, and entrepreneurs. Those clients reported startup investment capital exceeding $1.1 billion and creating or saving more than 11,300 jobs. The Enterprise Innovation Institute’s total 2021 financial impact exceeded $2.9 billion. Learn more at innovate.gatech.edu.
Georgia Green Energy Services, an Atlanta-based firm in the electrical construction industry, was recently awarded $20,000 from Siemens USA as part of the technology company’s ongoing commitment to expanding vendor diversity in the supply chain.
Founded by Gavin Ireland in 2007, Georgia Green Energy Services is one of nine Black-owned businesses across the country awarded the $20,000 Siemens Entrepreneurship Grant. The companies will join Siemens’ supplier database, which is comprised of more than 3,700 small and diverse businesses. That business segment represents more than a quarter of Siemens’ entire supplier base.
“What Siemens is doing is important because it’s impactful for the community and for business owners to be able to see that large corporations are making make these investments,” Ireland said. “It means a lot to me. A lot of times, as minority businesses, we have to work with limited resources, so this investment in us is very important.”
The nine winning recipient businesses were selected from U.S. cities where Siemens has a significant footprint: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, and Sacramento. These grants, now totaling $320,000 over the past two years, complement the nearly $1 billion that Siemens USA spends annually doing business with small and diverse-owned firms.
“What we’re seeking are those minority enterprises that deserve to be highlighted within the whole network — the people who are really making a difference and showing the way and working on things that are absolutely essential to our future,” said Siemens CEO Barbara Humpton during a recent visit to Georgia Tech’s campus, where the announcement was made. “This is about being in a network
together and working together to create change.”
In January 2022, MBDA Business Centers in those cities nominated 37 Black-owned businesses to apply for the Siemens grants. Nominees were selected based on criteria and specialties that aligned with industry demand: preventative and predictive maintenance, fire and security, electrical, construction, rail and transport, mobility solutions, and facilities and project management. The Georgia MBDA Business Center evaluated and selected the winners.
In addition to Georgia Green Energy Services, the other selected businesses are:
Maven Construction – Boston
E-Fix Housing Solutions – Charlotte
GCC Enterprises, LLC – Dallas
Onyx Enterprise, Inc. – Detroit
Arbor Electrical Service, Inc. – Miami
Evans Electrical Services, Inc. – New York
A M Electric, Inc. – Philadelphia
AHI Construction, Inc. – Sacramento
“Siemens continues to show its commitment to Black-owned businesses through the Siemens Entrepreneurship Grant,” said Donna M. Ennis, C.P.F., director of the Georgia MBDA Business Center and director of Diversity Engagement and Program Development at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. “The business community recognizes the importance of diversity and its economic impact on communities,” she said, noting that Georgia Green Energy Services is among the Georgia MBDA Business Center’s roster of clients.
“Grants and commitments like these not only provide a critical mechanism to enhance businesses’ viability through these challenging times, but to grow and thrive.”