Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Third Round Biz Pitch Winner! David Suk, CEO & Co-Founder of Saint Luna

David Suk, CEO and Co-founder of Saint Luna

On September 30th David Suk was crowned the winner in the third round of nglccNY’s Biz Pitch, sponsored by EY. David is the CEO and Co-founder of Saint Luna. 

“Saint Luna is a charcoal filtered moonshine that's made with molasses and rye. The flavor notes include a nice bit of subtle smokiness from the charred oak that we use,” he said. “I like to talk about the front of the palette being that molasses. And the caramel flavors that you get pair really well with the spicy pepperiness of the rye that tends to hit the back of the palette. Normally when I do these kinds of presentations, I usually know what people's favorite cocktails are so I can guide them through making their favorite cocktail with Saint Luna. I think it makes it a little bit more identifiable and a little bit more personal.” 

David says he enjoyed the Biz Pitch experience because “I always love new opportunities to pitch my brand. Everybody was super friendly and the feedback was great.” 

His advice for other businesses vying for a win in the Biz Pitch competition: 

“I just told my story. The story of the brand, how I thought of it and my experience in the industry. The pitch deck used is something I’ve adjusted over time, based on previous feedback from other business prospects. By the time I did the big pitch with EY, it was probably my 37th version of that pitch deck.” 

He says the Biz Pitch is important because “it gives people the ability to practice and refine their pitch. I received an impartial view that I might not get from pounding the pavement every day giving my pitch in a typical environment. I think the networking and the contacts are always great because I'm a huge believer in six degrees of separation and that one person on the phone that might go, ‘Hey, actually my cousin owns a bar. I'd love to introduce you,’ or my cousin or my friend or whomever that person might be; that stuff is always helpful in finding new clients.” 

David says he’s looking forward to competing in the finals as well as other prospects ahead. “I'm excited for what's to come. I'm excited for all the great opportunities that EY and nglccNY provide. I'm beyond excited that EY supports minority run businesses like ours.” 

The fourth round of the nglccNY and EY Biz Pitch is set for October 22nd. Register here.

Member Spotlight: Alexis McSween leads her firm Bottom Line Construction & Development, LLC with Grit & Grace

Alexis McSween, founder and CEO of Bottom Line Construction & Development, LLC 

Alexis McSween has under her belt eighteen years of practical and formal experience in construction and real estate development. As the founder and CEO of the New York-based Bottom Line Construction & Development, LLC (BLCD), she has worked on several permitted construction and development projects involving, design, renovations, structural work, carpentry, partitions, plumbing and electrical. BLCD is a fully licensed and insured firm, with offices in Harlem and Queens, and is also 100% woman-, LGBT- and minority-owned and operated. Alexis prides herself in being a community-oriented firm, promoting a company culture based on perseverance, teamwork, and successful collaborations in finding innovative ways to construct and develop properties throughout New York’s five boroughs. 

Among BLCD’s latest projects is Baldwin Park, a 10,000 square foot boutique condo in Harlem. The $7 million project is named after the acclaimed Harlem-born novelist James Baldwin, who happens to be Alexis’ favorite poet, author, and Black political activist. Another project BLCD currently is working on as tier one subcontractor is the redevelopment of Harlem's historical Victoria Theater into a 28 story, 300 feet building, making it the tallest building in Central Harlem. 

The $178 million two-winged project will house 211 rental apartments of which 50% will be affordable units, a 210-key Renaissance Marriott Hotel, 30,000 square feet of retail space, 25,000 square feet of art and cultural institution space, a 60-car garage, and two black box theaters of 199 and 99 seats that will be operated by the Apollo Theater Foundation. According to the New York Post, the tower will be the first hotel built in Harlem in nearly 85 years. BLCD was hired to handle several scopes of the interior finishes, a $6.5 million piece of the proverbial pie, which entails flooring, carpeting, tiling, leveling, cabinetry, granite countertops, and doors. “It's been a really exciting and challenging project,” which is 80% complete, says Alexis. 

Through a two-year entrepreneurship and leadership program by the Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Center, Alexis was nominated and awarded New York State’s 2020 Female Entrepreneur of the Year. She was recognized for her decades-long crusade in community building and development. Since 1994, she has developed and renovated several projects ranging from $500,000 to $7 million. 

Alexis is driven in part by her own experienced bouts of homelessness as a teenager growing up in South Jamaica, Queens, New York. She had a difficult relationship with her mother, who struggled with substance abuse, which led to Alexis to leave home in pursuit of emancipation and a more stable environment. “I was on my own without a diploma and limited job opportunities,” she says. After taking her High School equivalency during her sophomore year, she immediately joined the NYC Fire Department’s EMT Cadet program and graduated 10 months later. “From there,” she adds, “I went on to dispatch and participated in the city’s forgivable loan program to become a Registered Nurse in 1994.” She worked as an RN at White Plains Medical Center during nights and traveled back to Queens to work as an EMT during the days. Eventually, she received an opportunity to work for North Shore University Hospital where she spent 12 years as a cardiothoracic nurse. 

Alexis' passion for real estate also began in 1994, following the complete gut and rehabilitation of a multi-family home in Springfield Gardens, Queens that she purchased at 24 years-old. Using the State of New York Mortgage Agency’s first-time homebuyer program, she was able to purchase her first house, however, she still faced costly renovations. So, she took advantage of Mayor Koch’s plan expanded by then-Mayor David Dinkins. Homeless families were relocated to privately owned apartments under the Emergency Assistance Rehousing Program (EARP), which paid landlords rent and gave them other substantial incentives to accept formerly displaced tenants. 

“I could definitely relate to being homeless,” says Alexis. “I interviewed dozens and picked two families. I renovated that entire building and made it ready for them to move in.” What’s more, she built a new basement apartment for herself with the expanded voucher funds. “The two families stayed with me for about 15 years. From there I went on to tackle other projects in the community while working as a nurse. I renovated properties, invested in both commercial and residential properties, purchased real estate, and satisfied my passion for providing housing in my community and other communities that looked like mine,” adds Alexis, who notes she still has the first commercial office/retail building she constructed from the ground up in 2002. 

Having gained plenty of hands-on experience, she decided it was time to get some formal training to make an even larger impact. She completed her bachelor’s degree at NYACK College in organizational management in 2007. When the recession of 2008 hit, it changed the trajectory of her work, leading her to formally establish BLCD as an enterprise in 2010. That same year she completed her Master of Science degree in Real Estate Development with a minor in Construction Management from NYU’s Shack Real Estate Institute. While earning her Masters, she also worked as a project manager for a NYC Women Business Enterprise (WBE) construction & management firm on public and private projects. 

“I realized between completing my own projects and working for a general contractor in Manhattan, that there was a tremendous opportunity to get certified and to actually provide a living wage for people in my community,” says Alexis. In 2011, BLCD achieved its Minority/Women Business Enterprise (M/WBE) certification and its New York State certification in 2012, which improved the company’s participation on city and government construction projects. “We're certified with the school construction authority and we're certified with the MTA,” she adds. “Being certified doesn’t guarantee you’ll get projects or even a seat at the table, but it gets your foot in the door. You're in a much better position than someone who's not certified.” 

BLCD also strives to work with other minority-owned businesses. “We have a really good utilization rate with our minority subcontractors,” Alexis says. “We're (roughly) at 60% utilization on MBEs.” Additionally, BLCD became a certified LGBT Business Enterprise this year but she notes that with COVID-19 pandemic BLCD has yet to tap into the treasure chest of corporate procurement opportunities through NGLCC. 

Alexis acknowledges she still faces challenges being an African American woman in a male-dominated industry. Whenever she walks into a room, shows up on a site, attends meetings or engages clients, people are going to test her. She has to prove herself. It is the age-old expression of having to be twice as smart, twice as good. 

Looking to pay it forward, this past July BLCD kicked off its Youth Construct program for minority, economically disadvantaged youth in New York. The goal is to create a community for 11th and 12th grade students where they can gain construction administration skills needed to succeed now and in the future. 

Alexis points out that currently there are certificates, undergraduate and graduate opportunities for adults, construction trade concentrations in the High Schools, but not enough access to the lucrative industry of construction administration. To the contrary, BLCD’s Youth Construct program will expose teens (through internships and externships) to the actual administration side of the industry and fields such as construction, office management, office engineering, project management, project associate, assistant project manager, and expediting. 

Local high school students can apply to Youth Construct through their career counselors. Outreach to LGBTQ+ youth will include going through such organizations as The Door, of which Alexis notes she is a product of the program. The Door provides a wide range of services to meet the needs of New York City youth ages 12-24. 

BLCD is running a crowdfunding campaign that will end in December 2020. Each student is costing about $5,500 and the program is about seven months. So far $12,000 has been pledged with a target goal of $50,000. To find out more about BLCD’s Youth Construct Program and support, click here. 

“I am just trying to put myself out there so that people know who we are and that they get involved,” Alexis says. 

Written by Carolyn M. Brown, a journalist, author, playwright, producer, and founder of True Colors Project, a social enterprise that produces LGBTQIAGNC+ themed content via theater, film, digital platforms, and events, which includes My True Colors Excel Pride Awards and My True Colors Festival: Fighting For Social Justice and Cultural Diversity Through The Arts, She is a member of the nglccNY Media and Communications Committee. @cmbrown_7

October Ambassador of the Month — Joanne Balady

nglccNY is elated to announce our October Ambassador of the Month, Joanne Balady. Joanne is the Founder/President of Balady Promotions. The company assists its clients in advertising their brands, products and services through the use of promotional product and decorated apparel programs, printed marketing materials, trade show exhibits, and more. Joanne founded Balady Promotions in 1989, having started in the Promotional Products Industry in 1982 as a Program Administrator responsible for the Pepsi Cola Account. She enjoys the creative aspects of the industry and has combined that with her entrepreneurial spirit to create an organization that is truly customer-focused, competitive and enduring. Joanne maintains lasting relationships with her clients and has a deep appreciation for the loyalty and commitment that has developed between Balady and its clientele. 

Joanne calls the nglccNY Ambassador team “energetic and hard-working” and says she is “thrilled to learn from and share with this dynamic group of professionals.” 

“I have been in business for over 30 years and have been involved in many networking groups and organizations. The nglccNY is the most friendly, helpful and supportive organization I have worked with. The Chamber provides a truly fun and exciting environment to network with influencers, share successes and failures, connect members to potentially expand their economic opportunities, practice and perfect our elevator pitches and so much more.” 

Phyllis Mehalakes, Chair of The Ambassadors Committee shares high praise for Joanne’s robust contributions to the Chamber: “Joanne has been a volunteer for nglccNY for a number of years as a member of our Supplier Diversity committee and, more recently, our Ambassador committee. I was absolutely delighted when she decided to come on board as an Ambassador. Her first-hand knowledge of supplier diversity and what it means to be a LGBT certified business has contributed greatly to our committee’s overall understanding of the benefits and importance of getting certified. Joanne is professional and responsive in every way. She has been a pleasure to work with, always assisting our members and her fellow Ambassadors without hesitation. She has been a tremendous asset to our committee and nglccNY.” 

Joanne continues to lead the growth at Balady Promotions through her strategic partnerships with vendors and clients who also understand and appreciate the incredible impact that promotional products and well executed programs have on the success of companies worldwide. Joanne has an MBA in Finance from Rutgers University. 

Congratulations, Joanne! Your Chamber family is extremely thankful for your service!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

September Ambassador of the Month — Barton Jackson

We are extremely pleased to announce Barton Jackson as nglccNY’s September Ambassador of the Month. Barton serves as Vice President, Relationship Manager at TD Bank. He represents the Regional Commercial Bank, supporting small business owners and loves his career at the intersection of finance and community service. He will celebrate his eighth year at TD Bank in October. “I am a relationship manager for small business owners at TD Bank with 12 years of experience in the industry. I love what I do. It is not about making a sale or finalizing a transaction. It is about having a real relationship with a client, offering guidance and support. I love learning about the person behind the enterprise just as much as I care about how a bank can positively impact the day-to-day operations and financial milestones of a business. I am inspired daily by entrepreneurs and community leaders, especially during COVID-19.” 

Barton became an ambassador “to form connections and leverage experience, resources, and introductions back into the community.” He was persuaded to join by his fellow ambassador, Vincent Moy. “Vincent sidled up to me at the Bronx Botanical Garden Orchid Show and said: 'You know, you should really consider volunteering as an ambassador.’ I immediately met with Phyllis Mehalakes and have loved every minute of it.” 

“nglccNY is a place where we gather to reinvest in our community and foster a healthy and diverse business landscape,” Barton said. “Over the past five years, I've met new clients, volunteer community partners, colleagues and friends. If you are well-versed in professional networking or brand new to chambers of commerce, ambassadors can connect you to resources, programming, and people. You may even uncover strategic partnerships with your ambassador or a vendor/client relationship.” 

Phyllis Mehalakes, Chair of The Ambassadors Committee says Barton is a huge asset to the Ambassador Program. 

“Barton is yet another one of our senior Ambassador who contributes mightily to our community and nglccNY,” she said. “He is an absolute delight to work with, and is nothing but responsive and professional. Our membership appreciates his broad network and proactive and creative approach as he works to connect them with the right people, organizations, and opportunities.” 

Beyond banking, Barton is a volunteer ambassador and site visitor of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, co-leads Metro NY Forever Proud (TD's internal volunteer LGBTQ2+ workforce), sits on a Consumer Protection and Empowerment Focus Group for the New York State Office of the State Comptroller, and regularly teaches both consumer and small business financial seminars with various nonprofits and community organizations. He was recognized in 2019 as one of Business Equality Networks' 40 LGBT Leaders Under 40, a 2019 TD Quarterly WOW! Star, and a 2020 Gay City News Impact Awards honoree for his work in community development. 

“As a nglccNY volunteer, Barton is often a step ahead in anticipating the needs of our committee and his fellow Ambassadors. As such the nglccNY Ambassador committee is most appreciative of Barton’s contributions to us, our membership, and our community. His recognition and awards are well deserved. We are lucky to have him on our team,” Phyllis said.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

August Ambassador of the Month — Smith Banfield


We are thrilled to announce Smith Banfield as nglccNY’s August Ambassador of the Month. Smith is the founder of Clear Space and as she puts it, “a master organizer, having transformed the homes (and lives) of thousands of people.” She is “intimately conscious that our wellness directly connects to our environment, whether in our homes or the world. Her ability to visualize and create inspiring spaces and to bring consciousness to the choices we make about our ‘stuff’ generates genuinely magical results.” 

Smith says when she found out she could become a nglccNY ambassador shortly after joining the chamber six years ago, she realized how beneficial it would be for meeting more members. “In my other networking groups, I was always matchmaking and this gave me a way to use those skills while making people feel welcome.” 

She says the Ambassador Program is an important catalyst for any member because “we provide a direct point of contact to get questions answered and offer guidance when needed. Joining any type of membership can be daunting. Connecting with an ambassador is the best way to learn how to navigate the chamber, gain a comprehensive understanding of all the wonderful benefits of membership, create business alliances, and meet great people. Peter Krask, one of the first members assigned to me ended up editing my book years later. The way our professional introduction led to a creative project and ultimately a lovely friendship is one of the reasons the nglccNY is so important to me. The depth of our chamber membership is truly special.” 

Phyllis Mehalakes, Chair of The Ambassadors Committee shared glowing words about Smith’s dedication to the chamber: “Smith is yet another one of our senior Ambassadors, having volunteered on the Ambassador committee for the past 5 years. Upon meeting her, people immediately connect with Smith's positive energy and engaging personality. Smith's creativity and wonderful listening skills provide our membership with unique perspectives and meaningful introductions. Her fellow nglccNY volunteers enjoy Smith's easy-going and upbeat attitude. Smith is a joy to work with and a great asset to our team.” 

Congratulations, Smith! Thank you for your service!

Monday, July 20, 2020

July Ambassador of the Month — Jerry Kajpust

This month nglccny has named Jerry Kajpust as our Ambassador of the Month. Jerry is a treasured member of our Chamber family and we are grateful for his service. His first encounters with the Chamber began with his early days at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art. Now going on twelve years, he currently serves as the Director of External Affairs for the Museum. He says nglccNY was and continues to be an invaluable resource, and is his first “go-to” when looking for professional support for the Museum and for himself.

“When the ambassador program began, I thought it was an excellent way to get more involved and give back to this amazing organization.  As an ambassador, I see my role as that of a connector.  One of my greatest satisfactions is when I make introductions, and in turn, those connections create new business opportunities and colleagues. What has been truly inspiring is seeing how much the Chamber has grown with members, corporate sponsors, non-profits and other professionals.  And now being the organization that can certify LGBTQ owned businesses to be elevated to equal players in the world of supplier diversity, the nglccNY is empowering our community.

What I enjoy about meeting members is the passion they bring to their work and to our community. What I’ve learned, and share with new members, is ‘you get from the Chamber what you put into the Chamber. Opportunity doesn’t happen because of joining, it happens because you engage and become an active participant--you show up!’  I know it isn’t always easy for some of us to meet new people in a room of unknown faces, especially me who tends to be more of an introvert. That’s why it was brilliant for the Chamber to create the ambassador program. We help facilitate these introductions.

I know that we are now in a virtual world and we’ve gone online, but I must say that the virtual M3s have been engaging, helpful, and powerful in meeting new members and creating opportunity. I encourage you to join us for these M3s and to take advantage of the many offerings through the Chamber. I love when people reach out to me, and please do, I’m here as a resource. I look forward to the time when we can again celebrate in person, but until then I hope to see you online!”

Phyllis Mehalakes, Chair of The Ambassadors Committee praised Jerry's service to the chamber saying:

“Jerry is one of our most senior Ambassadors whose kindness and leadership qualities makes him a great member of our team.  He’s always ready to assist others;  his easy-going and approachable nature immediately puts his fellow Ambassadors, nglccNY members and corporate partners at ease.  Jerry has provided us with incredible insight and valued suggestions, many of which have been put into practice at nglccNY.  We’re also lucky to be able to draw upon his deep experience in the non-profit world as a Director of the Leslie Lohman Museum. nglccNY is fortunate to have Jerry as a member of our Ambassador committee.”

Jerry grew up in New Buffalo, a small Michigan town on Lake Michigan. He has an MA in Psychology. In addition to his museum work, Jerry’s vast career has included sales training, coaching, leadership development, hotel management, accounting, interior design and construction, retail, theater management, health care and restaurant work. He lived in Jerusalem for a period of time and also completed studies in theology.

Read more about Jerry here. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

nglccNY Spotlight: Anthony Hayes, The Hayes Initiative

Anthony Hayes, founder of The Hayes Initiative

“A great group of older gay mentors took me under their wing. They said, ‘You can be going out all night having fun, being young…but you are also going to the Human Rights Campaign Dinner, to the Empire State Pride Agenda,’ and so forth. I quickly became socialized around the idea of community.” So began Anthony Hayes’ journey to the founding of The Hayes Initiative.

When he arrived in New York in 1998 from Oklahoma, Anthony was in his early twenties. He began working in fashion, but by his mid-twenties, Anthony knew that he wanted to work with the LGBTQ community. At the end of a day spent lobbying Congress on behalf of HRC, he asked, “Can someone make a living doing this,” and was assured that the answer was yes. This led to a job at HRC in 2007. Working through the 2008 election cycle, Anthony and HRC focused on both federal and state elections, approaching them through the lens of LGBTQ issues. This was his entryway into the government, electoral, communications space.

From HRC, Anthony moved to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey helping oversee the agency’s response to major crises such as the “Bridgegate” scandal and Superstorm Sandy. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the Port Authority opened the Memorial Pools; Anthony was responsible for the media relating to that opening, as well as several other events at the site including bringing the Today show to broadcast from a crane on top of the building and having President Obama sign the last piece of steel to go into One World Trade. “All of this work, but especially the crises, when you are working simultaneously for two governors, a mayor, and multiple members of Congress, was a real PhD in crisis communications.”

Leaving the Port Authority, Anthony became a member of Secretary Clinton’s Press Advance Team during her 2016 campaign. “It was an incredible education in high stakes press, high stakes stagecraft.” At the end of the campaign, Anthony began to talk with various communications firms in New York City that were eager to bring him on; some offered retainers. “A friend of mine rightly said, ‘You’ve always wanted to start your own business; how many retainers do you need to start a business?’” While this was going on, he was contacted about managing a nation-wide bus tour aimed at countering efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “I said, ‘Oh great. You should hire my company’ and they said, ‘Send us your contract.’ Thus, began the birth of a communications and government relations firm named The Hayes Initiative.”

Over the past four years, Anthony and his team have served numerous verticals including tech, real estate, major league sports, infrastructure, banking, media, philanthropy, and individuals with legal challenges. “It’s been a great experience to take those very specific lessons – from LGBT advocacy, fighting for hate crimes, fighting for marriage equality – articulating these very complicated things to the public quickly has become a skillset for us.” About 50% of The Hayes Initiative work is crisis-based. The rest tends to be supporting communications and government relations around major initiatives.

Anthony was invited to nglccNY by Jonathan Lovitz, Senior Vice President of NGLCC. “What I am loving most about it is the community. Even calling another member to ask for references to a vendor is helpful.” And, given Anthony’s commitment to LGBT advocacy, the fact that neither New York City nor New York State recognizes us as minority vendors is another incentive for his active involvement. “It’s the very same expansion we took with hate crimes. We took the existing laws and expanded them to include LGBTQ. This is more important now, coming out of COVID. I think all minority and women-owned small businesses are going to need this priority, to be supported.”

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Anthony realized that The Hayes Initiative’s knowledge of crisis communication is needed throughout the business community; as a result, they are now offering short pro bono consultations to small businesses and nonprofits. “2020 and 2021 are going to be about crisis communication. When you add on the pandemic and recovery and the righteous anger in the streets on #BlackLivesMatter it’s a complicated landscape to be communicating, to find the right way to be authentic. If you are a small business about to launch something new, how do you launch, do you launch?”

“The Hayes Initiative is thrilled to be working with companies, lifting up the voices of their Black employees. Leadership positions are largely filled with white straight men. For them to be in this moment, and for some – not all – to hear their Black employees saying, ‘you aren’t doing enough.’ We’ve been involved with several clients, listening to those voices. We’re not going to tell them how to respond, other than to push them to be more anti-racist than they otherwise probably would.” As a result, Anthony and his team are involved with several internal diversity groups helping them to work through how to execute what the employees are lifting up. “This is a moment to put the “b” in subtle,” Anthony said, reflecting on how much of corporate communications is “gobbledygook.” As a result, they are pushing hard for exceptionally clear messaging from the C-suite on down.
“My encouragement to leaders, regardless of the size of your business, is don’t be overconfident that you know how to communicate. In the case of government relations, don’t wait until you need to ask for something; build relationships. And understand the business of media.”

To learn more about The Hayes Initiative, follow Founder @anthonyjhayes and @hayesinitiative on Twitter and Instagram, and visit their website. 

Written by Brian Gorman, an NGLCC member and an International Coach Federation (ICF) certified professional coach. He brings five decades of change experience and study into every coaching conversation. He has served clients as large as Merck Manufacturing, as well as startups and individual leaders. Brian taps into the core of the matter, helping each person maximize their professional and personal potential. Brian works both one-on-one and with teams. In addition to his writing for nglccNY, Brian is a frequent contributor to Forbes online (https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/people/briangorman/#741ca8535c20) and serves as Managing Editor of Change Management Review. Website: www.TransformingLives.Coach Brian@TransformingLives.Coach