One of the panels at the Aug. 24 Small and Micro-Business Conference discussed “Construction, Goods, Services and Business Solutions.” GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

The two most important things that make a business successful are a solid business plan and passion.

Speakers at the 2019 Small and Micro-Business Conference repeated those points as they addressed nearly 60 small business owners and prospective entrepreneurs, mostly women and minorities, at a free conference hosted Aug. 24 by the South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs.

“Knowledge is what makes you strong. Relationship is what makes you strong,” said Delores Dacosta, executive director for the commission. “When you’re strong, our communities are strong. When you are a healthy business owner, you add value to the economy.”

Any small business owner or entrepreneur-to-be who wanted to know something about starting, maintaining and expanding their companies had resources of all kinds at the conference.

Presentations included details about opportunity zones, government contracts and certificates, contracting and licensing, federal bonding, business incubators, a start-up delivery service and, as one speaker said, the subject everyone was waiting for – a panel on “Where’s the Money?”

Amador Rivera addressed passion, as a member of a panel that discussed business opportunities and challenges in providing construction, goods, services and business solutions.

He began a painting company 20 years ago on Hilton Head Island. He is now president of Alfa Ce Inc., a full-service commercial and residential drywall and painting company.

“Every person I have seen stepping out in front of you has one pattern and that is passion,” Rivera said. “You have to be passionate in what you do. Otherwise, you are wasting your time.”

River said one must be passionate because problems will arise along the way. “Someone is going to tell you ‘no,’ or you’re going to have a bunch of paperwork to fill out,” he said. “So you need to make sure that you take that pill every morning and tell yourself you are going to be passionate.”

Like some other speakers, when he wanted to start his company, Rivera found information resources in short supply.

“I didn’t have what we’re having right now, today. Nobody was helping. I looked around and I had to pay to go to seminars. And there were seminars all over the place,” he said. “I had to drive all over to Columbia, Raleigh, Jacksonville, because there was nothing around there to help me.”

Kimani Davis, owner of Mercy Construction LLC, had his past as well as a shortage of readily available information working against him. A convicted felon, Davis had a challenge finding work.

What he ended up doing was going into construction, one industry that he said seemed to be the most forgiving for people with prison records.

With the help of the commission and his own determination to find answers, Davis not only found a job, but eventually started his own construction company. He worked his way up from laborer to company owner, becoming superintendent on numerous construction projects, including work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Naval Facilities.

Applying for and getting contracts for such jobs requires certain paperwork – what Rivera referred to when he said an owner needs to maintain that passion to keep wading through documents.

One of those required documents is state certification for small business.

Pam Green, director of the South Carolina Office of Small and Minority Business Contracting and Certification, connects small, minority and women-owned businesses with contracting and procurement opportunities through the state certification process.

“We try to advocate for equitable portions as it relates to some of the state contracting, and help folks learn to leverage some of those contracting opportunities through the certification process,” Green said. “It’s important that you have a seat at the table. If you’re not at the table, that means you’re on the menu.”

To be state certified, a business must fulfill certain criteria: The business must be minority owned, have an office in South Carolina, must have been in business for a year, and the owner has to own at least 51 percent of that business.

Green said she and her staff make site visits to the businesses during the certification process and ask questions to determine if that person is the bona fide owner and makes the decisions.

As an example, she said a construction company can’t state that the owner is a female when all she does is pays the bills and doesn’t know anything about the industry.

For some of the attendees, the information was what they sought to support their passion.

Luchanda Genuisy, an up-and-coming travel agent, would like to start her own agency in Bluffton – a business that is missing in this area.

“I wanted to see if there is any grant to help me start my business, as well as giving me the opportunity to network,” she said.

Teddy Nesby already owns two businesses – a detailing company and T&T Productions, an entertainment company he operates as DJ T-Grams.

“I’m here to get more knowledge on the whole ‘owning my own business’ subject,” Nesby said. “I’m trying to get information on how to improve my businesses and to network.”

Latoya Johnson is an independent contractor in the beauty industry. A cosmetologist, she owns Ahhmazing Touch, specializing in manicures and pedicures, and came to get information on how to build her business.

The conference was directed at small businesses, but a few speakers served as examples of those who had begun small and are now handling multi-million dollar contracts.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.