The U.S. Small Business Administration announces the following winners of South Carolina's 2013 small business awards:
- Small Business Person of the Year: Noah Leask, president and chief executive officer, Ishpi Information Technologies (Mount Pleasant)
- Runner-Up Small Business Person of the Year: Jerry Ellison, president and chief executive officer, JBE Incorporated (Hartsville)
- Family Business of the Year: Cox Industries, led by R. Michael Johnson, president and chief executive officer, and Billy Cox, chairman of the board (Orangeburg)
- Young Entrepreneur of the Year: Chris Manley, cofounder and managing partner, Engenius (Greenville)
- Minority Small Business Advocate of the Year: Nathaniel Abraham Jr., owner of MBD Media, publisher of Carolina Panorama (Columbia)
- Women in Business Advocate of the Year: Jennet Robinson Alterman, executive director, Center for Women (Charleston)
The SBA will recognize all award winners during the annual Salute to Small Business event on Thursday, May 23, in Columbia. More information on the Salute to Small Business is available at scsalutetosmallbiz.com.
Noah Leask, a service-disabled U.S. Navy veteran, started a cyber defense firm out of his home in September 2006 with wife and fellow Navy veteran Lisa. A member of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians, Leask called his business Ishpi, a Chippewa word that means “move forward.”
Ishpi provides counterterrorism and cyber warfare services to the U.S. intelligence, security and military communities. Notable clients include the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, U.S. Navy and Department of Homeland Security. Ishpi currently employees109 personnel and has facilities in Suffolk, Va., Alexandria, Va. and San Antonio, Tex., in addition to its headquarters in Mount Pleasant.
Leask is the executive vice president of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of South Carolina, chairman of the board of Tri-County Autism Puzzle Place Academy, and treasurer and finance committee chair for the Special Olympics South Carolina board of directors. He was nominated for the Small Business Person of the Year award by Linda Blanton, consultant at the Small Business Development Center in North Charleston.
Jerry Ellison started JBE in 1982 to provide maintenance services to local businesses. Soon, the company had expanded into metal finishing. A decade later, when Honda relocated its power sports division to South Carolina, JBE added sub-assembly and manufacturing to its services and soon won an assembly contract with Honda. At the beginning of the new millennium, JBE secured a contract with international diesel engine manufacturer Cummins, Inc., prompting a new round of hiring and the company’s move to its current 200,000 square foot facility.
Today, JBE is a 95-employee manufacturing and global supply chain firm and one of only a handful of minority-owned companies on the East Coast to hold a Foreign Trade Zone designation.
Ellison is a member of the Hartsville, Florence, Darlington and South Carolina chambers of commerce and has served on the boards of the Florence Darlington Tech Foundation, Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center and Vocational Rehabilitation. He was nominated by JBE employee Patricia Kessler.
A manufacturer of pressure-treated wood products, Cox Industries was founded in 1954 by brothers W.B. and E.J. Cox. Since then, it has grown from a single facility operating on a few acres to 14 facilities in 10 states. Now in its third generation of family ownership, Cox serves the residential, commercial and industrial markets, with products ranging from decks and fences to utility poles, docks and retaining walls.
Current president and chief executive officer R. Michael Johnson, grandson of founder W.B. Cox, took over the company in 2007 from his uncle--W.B.’s son Billy Cox. Led by Johnson, Cox Industries experienced nearly 100 percent growth at a time when many wood treating businesses were scaling back operations or shutting down. By 2012, Cox had grown to just under 400 full-time employees with sales of over $185 million.
Despite its growth, Cox Industries remains focused on its employees and on the community. Through its Cox Foundation, the company has provided $586,000 in scholarships to employees' children since 1986. Cox is also involved with Habitat for Humanity and has built a house for the organization every year for the past six years.
Cox Industries was nominated by Joseph Astrachan, chair of family business at Kennesaw State University.
Chris Manley's company, Engenius, was born from Manley's own need for a website. Unable to find an affordable yet high-quality option for his nonprofit organization, he decided that the best solution would be to become the solution. In January 2008, when Manley was 23-years-old, he and partner Chase Finch started Engenius, a web design firm serving small businesses and nonprofits. By 2010, Engenius got a major boost by introducing its Top Hat service--an even more affordable website package option that helped more than double the company's clients. In January 2011, Engenius became a bona fide brick-and-mortar business when it opened an office in downtown Greenville. A year later, Engenius moved across the street into a building of its own.
Currently, Engenius has six employees and more than 130 clients. Through its Engenius Grants program, it has provided more than $40,000 in funding and pro-bono services to local nonprofits.
The Young Entrepreneur award honors a small-business entrepreneur under 30. Manley, now 28, was nominated by Scott Whelchel, area manager of the Small Business Development Center in Greenville.
Nathaniel Abraham Jr. is owner of MBD Media, which publishes Carolina Panorama, a weekly newspaper that has served the Columbia area’s African American community since 1986.
Abraham took over the newspaper from his father in 2004. In 2009, inspired by the Empowerment Experiment--a Chicago family’s project to patronize only African American-owned businesses for one year--he started a weekly column detailing which minority-owned businesses he had visited that week and how much he had spent. That year, Abraham also launched the newspaper’s front-page “Community Business of the Week” column, showcasing a different minority-owned company each week.
Abraham's efforts to promote minority businesses extend beyond the newspaper. He is cofounder of the Midlands Business Referral Network, which connects local minority business owners with free resources and advice, and a cofounder of the Professional Minority Photographers of the Midlands.
Abraham was nominated for the Minority Business Advocate award by his wife, Patricia, a staff writer with Carolina Panorama.
Through her Peace Corps experience with microenterprise and women's empowerment programs, Jennet Robinson Alterman understood that entrepreneurship was essential to women's economic empowerment. And so when she became executive director of Charleston's nonprofit Center for Women in 2001, she brought a new focus on entrepreneurship to the organization.
In 2004, the Center for Women began offering the Entrepreneurial Woman program--a series of business workshops and networking sessions. That same year, Alterman partnered with the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce to launch the annual Women in Business Conference. More recently, Alterman piloted the Center for Women’s microloan program for women-owned businesses. In October 2011, the Center for Women launched the South Carolina Women’s Business Center (SCWBC), fulfilling Alterman's longtime goal. Partially funded by the SBA, the SCWBC offers free and low-cost business counseling and training. In late 2012, the SCWBC expanded into the Upstate, with plans expand throughout the state over the next four years.
Alterman was nominated for the Women in Business Advocate award by Christie MacConnell, director of the SCWBC.