Top 40 Growth Company Beats All Odds

Just like any other young professional, Tracey Grace was committed to her career and performing with her eye on excellence, as she emerged from the prestigious University of Pittsburgh with an MBA. She has successfully knocked down many barriers as the founder and CEO of IBEX IT Business Experts (IBEX), a training, technology, and professional services firm.

There have been many economic downturns that have forced companies to rethink the ways they approach business. This was the case for a Dutch consulting firm where Grace held several roles, eventually moving up the ranks to become VP. She was challenged to grow the company’s revenues right in the crux of what is known today as The Great Recession. This challenge was met by her fierce tenacity and fervor to succeed. She took the company to record breaking numbers in a new unexplored vertical—IT training and consulting—specifically in the healthcare field right as health systems were migrating to electronic health records.

Although she was producing, the company’s leadership decided this was not a viable growth segment and advised her to refocus. They did not see a valuable future in the Health IT space. This became a pivotal turning point for Grace’s future.  Given the relationships she had formed, and her work ethic, she could not bring herself to sever ties so easily with this newfound customer base who valued her expertise and relied upon her guidance. And this marked the birth of an independent consultancy that would become IBEX IT Business Experts today—an award-winning certified woman, minority-owned small business.

After launching the company, of course, there were growing pains. Navigating as a newly minted entrepreneur is not an easy task. With limited resources Grace gravitated to the federally funded support resources, one of which was the Atlanta MBDA Business Center. “The Atlanta MBDA Business Center was pivotal in sharing information and providing collaboration that helped send me on a strong path forward. At one event the Center referred me to, I reconnected with an acquaintance who referred me to a client that I’m still winning contracts with today,” says Grace. MBDA is the only federal agency tasked with promoting the growth and competitiveness of minority-owned businesses. They provide technical training, market knowledge and insights and networking for nominal fees and in many cases offer free programming designed to provide greater access to capital, contracts and markets.

“We were able to share a poster in the first Poster Walk Competition at an Advanced Manufacturing Summit, and one of the attendees from Chicago came to us and wanted to collaborate on a government contract,” explains Grace. This is a true testament to the importance of the community MBDA cultivates for small minority owned businesses.

“As IBEX continues to grow, we are focused on giving back, keeping in mind our early hardships, we have been able to develop a solution to help enterprises to better engage minority owned businesses through our technically advanced supplier diversity vendor management system, Certifiably Diverse,” says Grace. Within the next five years, IBEX’s intent is to exponentially increase its footprint by introducing proprietary products aimed at both national and international markets.

IBEX was recently selected as one of the 2021 Georgia Fast 40 for middle market growth by Atlanta’s Association for Corporate Growth. The company was invited to be one of three groups on a project with the Department of Transportation, and Ms. Grace was recently named to the board of North Fulton Community Charities. IBEX has retained a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of growing companies for the last three years and is ranked as number 32 for the Inc. list in Georgia. To learn more about IBEX, be sure to check out their website and follow them on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

 

Feeding a Million People by 2030

How does one get into the grub business? For Akissi Stokes, entrepreneur and Atlanta MBDA Business Center client, it was the combination of her ample background in business, childhood experience on her grandfather’s farm, and her travels to areas suffering from food insecurity that led her to seek out alternative and sustainable nutrition solutions. After initially looking for ways to add low-cost and sustainable protein additives to easy-to-make meals, Ms. Stokes soon discovered the international use of bugs as protein rich entities. Although Ms. Stokes initially considered farming crickets, a handful of experimental trials soon led her and her partner to begin working with grubs.

Although Ms. Stokes originally sought out to tackle food insecurity with her grub-based protein additives, she soon began to explore the benefits of expanding her product and its low-cost entry to larger aspects of the supply chain. With this in mind, WUNDERgrubs was established in 2016 as a social franchise which offer a high-quality, alternative protein used as an input for food, feed, fertilizer and manufacturing by-products, and for the first several years in business, WUNDERgrubs focused on rebranding bugs and insects as a nutritional product opposed to the general view of pests.

By 2019, WUNDERgrubs had been producing chocolate chip cookies supplemented with a grounded grub protein powder to help change public perception of insect-based protein, but the company was looking for an opportunity to pivot as a supplier. Returning to the initial emphasis to eliminate food-insecurity, WUNDERgrubs began exploring ways to develop and farm their product that could then be incorporated into a plethora of foods and recipes. By 2020 and the unforeseen Covid-19 pandemic, WUNDERgrubs’ influence stood out as a nutritional alternative when global supply chains were shut down in a matter of months. Today, WUNDERgrubs continues to distribute their protein powders, but they are also establishing public containers and grub hatcheries throughout Atlanta to showcase the resiliency and stability of their grub farming solutions as well as partnering with local bakers to incorporate their product.

Ms. Stokes noted that she first came into contact with the Atlanta MBDA Centers in 2018 after sitting on a panel with program manager, Brandy Nagel. After speaking with Brandy on a follow up phone call, Ms. Stokes registered WUNDERgrubs as an Atlanta MBDA Business Center client and immediately began engaging with the programs and seminars offered by our group.

“There is an intentionality behind the people who are hired at the Centers. There is an incredible breadth of background and expertise amongst the people. It’s important as an entrepreneur to know that the people you are using for business know certain things about your industry. It saves you a lot of time and frustration, and it helps that when you’re sitting down with your business plans and goals that they’re able to understand you.” Akissi Stokes

After the various relationships built through the Atlanta MDBA Centers and connections with Georgia Tech, WUNDERgrubs was soon introduced to the Capstone program at Georgia Tech. Through this program, WUNDERgrubs was assigned a group of graduating Georgia Tech seniors in the Computer Science program to help them develop an application for the company to collect data. WUNDERgrubs will also be returning as a Capstone sponsor this year in search for a social innovation capstone team.

The next few years are looking bright for WUNDERgrubs. As they continue to grow, Ms. Stokes noted that they are focusing on establishing a greater number of holder farms, focusing on rural areas in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi as well as in Ghana and Nigeria. WUNDERgrubs is also positioning themselves to influence the classification of the insect industry in Georgia. At this time, micro-livestock is not classified by the state of Georgia, so federal funding and agricultural relief aid, such as the ones distributed for the covid-19 pandemic, are not accessible for companies such as WUNDERgrubs. In addition to regional development and policy work, Ms. Stokes also noted that they hope to continue to expand their product options and retail space.

All in all, WUNDERgrubs’ goal is to influence – influence policy, health trends, and market perception towards the future of protein rich insect supplements. To learn more about WUNDERgrubs, make sure to visit their website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

 

Construction Focused on Social Responsibility

Born in Boston but raised in Colombia, Guiomar Obregon returned to the United States to receive both an MBA and Master of Civil Engineering degree from Georgia Tech. In partnership with her husband, Ms. Obregon opened Precision 2000, a civil-infrastructure construction firm, in 1998, and together they took on their first project at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Over time, Precision 2000 continued to be contracted on projects with Hartsfield-Jackson as well as additional projects with the city of Atlanta and other private companies. Today, Precision 2000 has been one of the few Hispanic female-owned companies to work on the expansion of the Atlanta airport.

Ms. Obregon first came into contact with the Atlanta MBDA Business Center when she was pursuing an 8(a) certification for Precision 2000 in 2002. After her initial application for the certification was returned, Ms. Obregon noted that the guidance and expertise offered by the centers allowed her to refile the application and accurately and effectively navigate through the paperwork to achieve 8(a) certification. Since her initial contact with the Centers, Ms. Obregon has participated in a handful of matchmaking events, roundtables, and meet and greets offered through the Atlanta MBDA Centers.

I thank the MBDA Centers who promote and support minority contractors. Its a huge help to know where to go when you need support or a connection. They are always available to help. Its really great advice and at a great value. Im extremely grateful weve had the opportunity to work with the Atlanta Centers.” – Guiomar Obregon 

Ms. Obregon noted that her education from Georgia Tech has helped propel her forward in her career as an entrepreneur and civil engineer. To continue to inspire the next generation of students from Colombia as well as to promote engineering education, Precision 2000 established the Precision 2000 Inc. Fellowship at Georgia Tech’s School of Building Construction in December of 2017. With an initial commitment of $40,000, and a pledge to increase the fellowship funding to $100,000 in 2021, Precision 2000 continues to invest in the future of a greater, global community. To learn more about the fellowship, click here.

Precision 2000 strives to be the leading civil infrastructure construction company, known for innovation, reliability, and excellence. With a reputation as a respected airport general contractor, it continues to tread forward despite the unprecedented times of the last year. Noting that Precision 2000 survived the 2008 recession and has now survived the 2020 pandemic recession, Ms. Obregon’s positive attitude and leadership style has helped her company navigate the unique circumstances needed to not just rebuild, but excel in their work.

To learn more about Precision 2000, make sure to visit their website and follow them on Facebook and LinkedIn.