MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ---In 1993, at the age of 22, Alberic Jean-Baptiste came to United States from Haiti. “I had nothing in hand and did not speak any English,” he said.
Today, Baptiste is living the American dream as the owner of 24/7 Enterprises, LLC a Mountainside-based company that specializes in courier, medical transportation and warehousing services.
In 1995, he became an independent contractor for UPS delivering packages in New Jersey. After working for five years, he decided to start his own courier service. “After doing it for a while, I decided to go out on my own,” said Baptiste. “Basically, I had no business background, but I had a basic understanding of the courier business. The difficult part was that I had to start from scratch. I was willing to work hard and put in the necessary long hours. In the beginning I recall working until 3 a.m. some days.”
Determined to succeed, he worked on developing a customer database, a brand and a website. “We started with 2-3 customers; some who are still with us today,” he said. “I was able to grow the business to a certain point, but I realized in order to take the company to another level, I needed help.”
The first thing Baptiste did was go back to school. “I realized the importance of an education in business, so that I could understand every aspect of running my business,” he said. So he enrolled at Kean University at night and earned a degree in International Business.
While attending school, he learned about the Kean University Small Business Development Center. The center is one of 12 located throughout New Jersey that receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the state of New Jersey to provide small business owners with counseling and training programs to help them achieve a greater level of success.
At the Kean University SBDC, Baptiste met Nat Sims, the current director, who helped him develop a business plan for 24/7 Enterprises, LLC. It was that business plan that led to a much needed $10,000 microloan from the UCEDC, a statewide nonprofit economic development corporation that provides financing to small business owners through a variety of SBA loan programs.
“The assistance that I have received from both the Kean University Small Business Development Center and UCEDC has been invaluable,” said Baptiste. “In addition to developing a business plan with the Kean University Small Business Development Center and receiving an SBA microloan from UCEDC, both groups were instrumental in encouraging me to explore federal contracting as a source for new business opportunities.”
A turning point for the company came in 2010 when 24/7 Enterprises became an SBA certified 8(a) company. Again, it was the help of the Kean University SBDC that had helped Baptiste through SBA’s certification process.
According to SBA New Jersey District Director Al Titone, the SBA’s 8(a) Contracting Program gives small business owners access to contracts from the federal government. To qualify for the program, a small business must be owned and controlled by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual belonging to a minority group. As an Haitian-American, Baptiste qualified to participate in the program.
“SBA’s 8(a) program has a way of opening the door and leveling the playing field for small disadvantaged companies who want to do business with the federal government,” said Titone. “Participants of the program are eligible to be considered for sole-source contracts up to $4 million for services and $6.5 million for manufacturing. Contracts higher than those amounts must be bid on competitively amongst 8(a) firms.”
For Baptiste the program is starting to pay dividends. Last year 24/7 Enterprises, LLC received smaller 8(a) contracts with the IRS and General Service Administration. Recently Baptiste received a contract from the Air Force for $900,000 to provide mail services at the McGuire Joint Base. A recent teaming agreement with a former 8(a) company, Madison Lawrence, has allowed the company to diversify by adding food services to its repertoire. This agreement recently helped the company land a major contract with the Air Force to provide food services to its base in Pennsylvania.
“It’s exciting to see a small business owner like Al Baptiste utilize the many programs available to him through the SBA and its network of resource partners,” said Titone. “The partnerships we have established with the Kean University’s SBDC and UCED allow us to help firms like 24/7 Enterprises, LLC reach their potential and achieve the next level of success.”
According to Baptiste the company has nine employees and since 2007 sales have increased 25 percent every year. “My goal is to expand the company nationwide and my strategy is to invest in areas where we have long-term contracts already in place,” said Baptiste. “This way we can maximize the resources that we already have in place and be able to strengthen our position in the marketplace.”
“I feel so grateful for the opportunities and for the help that I have received along the way,” said Baptiste. “Other than the United States, there is no other country on earth where you can make it on your own.”