Column: City opening center for women entrepreneurs

By Maria Saporta
Friday, May 20, 2011

The city of Atlanta will open a Center for Women Entrepreneurship in the former home of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at 72 Marietta St. N.W. downtown, Mayor Kasim Reed announced at the “CEO Luncheon” of the Atlanta Business League on May 17.

Reed was named the 2011 CEO of the Year by the 78-year-old organization that promotes economic opportunity for Atlanta’s African-American businesses.

Reed said the idea behind the Center for Women Entrepreneurship is a “very simple” one.

Women entrepreneurs will submit their business plans to an independent third party, most likely a local university’s business school. Twenty businesses will be selected, and they will receive free access to office space, free access to technology, free access to boardrooms and free access to conference rooms.

Reed said that he is currently raising money to build out the space for the center, and the plan is to have it up and running by the end of the year.

In his keynote talk, Reed also boasted about Atlanta recently being declared the No. 1 city for minorities and women entrepreneurs.

The mayor also said that in the past year the city awarded $500 million in contracts to minority-owned and women-owned businesses. “Next year, we are going to do even more,” he said.

Reed then said the city would continue to honor the legacy of the late Mayor Maynard Jackson, a national leader in encouraging minority-majority joint ventures, and every mayor that succeeded him — Andrew Young, Bill Campbell and Shirley Franklin.

“Atlanta is special,” Reed said. “It’s not a traditional corporation. It’s a corporation that every citizen in the city of Atlanta has a share, has an ownership position. I need you. I value you. And Atlanta does not work without you.”

The Atlanta Business League also honored several other leaders: AirTran’s Tad Hutcheson with the League Leadership Award; Fulton County Chairman John Eaves with the Catalyst Award; Tirrell Whittley, founder of Liquid Soul Media, with the Entrepreneur of the Year Award; and Mack Wilbourn, president of Mack II, with the Corporation of the Year Award.

The most moving moment came when Wilbourn accepted his award, overcome with emotion. Wilbourn and his business partner, Brad Hubbert, went into business in 1971, becoming one of the first minority McDonald’s franchises in the Southeast. Since then, he has acquired several other franchises, including Popeyes, Edy’s Ice Cream and Checkers Hamburgers, as well as other business ventures.

But the proudest moment was when he decided to mentor Al Joyner, an Olympic gold medalist. “He has 22 McDonald’s [stores] in Mississippi,” Wilbourn said. “That’s my real success story.”

Women empowerment

The National Center for Civil & Human Rights not only has received a gift of $250,000 from the late Mayor Maynard Jackson’s family and business partners (and a commitment to raise a total of $2.5 million), but also has received $250,000 from a supporting group — the year-old Women’s Solidarity Society, chaired by Latonda Henderson.

At a “Women’s Empowerment” breakfast on May 17, the theme was the role that women have played in the human and Civil Rights Movement.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said she was encouraged to put the development of the Center on her “to do” list by Evelyn Lowery, the wife of the Rev. Joseph Lowery. “She said we needed a center to have a dialogue on civil, human and women’s rights,” Franklin said.

Doug Shipman, CEO of the National Center for Civil & Human Rights, said recent statistics have shown that more women than men earned graduate degrees last year for the first time in history. There also are more women than men in the workforce.

But he added that women still are not well-represented in corporate and civic leadership circles. The $100 million center can help “train young women to be leaders and inspire them with stories and the past that they didn’t know.”

Franklin thanked former Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders for helping lead the effort to get city funding for the project. Thanks to $40 million in city support, the center now has raised more than $73 million and is still on track to break ground this fall.

Franklin told the group it was important for Atlanta to “understand the Maynard story.” While in office, Jackson’s cabinet went from having one woman to half of the cabinet within four years being women, black, white and Latino. “We are going to build the center, or else,” Franklin said.

Goizuetas aid Hispanics

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education has received a $539,600 grant from the Goizueta Foundation to launch a new initiative aimed at Hispanic and Latino students.

“This initiative will enable the organization to better serve the community and the state by focusing on the education needs of Hispanic/Latino students and identifying the existing resources so that they become skilled and competitive in a globalized workforce,” said Stephen Dolinger, president of the partnership.

Levetan lauded

Senior Connections will hold its annual Senior Prom at Agnes Scott College on May 21 and honor Liane Levetan, a former CEO of DeKalb County.

Paula Rosput Reynolds, former CEO of AGL Resources Inc., will give Levetan the Community Connections Awards.

Other invited guests include current DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis and U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson.

Proceeds will help fund home- delivered meals, in-home care, home repair programs and operational expenses, according to Debra Furtado, Senior Connections’ CEO.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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