Tag: MBE Spotlight

Keep up-to-date with what’s happening in the supply chain diversity space both nationally, regionally, and locally as well as get the latest NYNJMSDC news.

MBE Spotlight: Sal Austin

Sal Austin is a Senior VP at DGX Security (DGX). He is a security expert, an Internet for ALL Advocate, and a Cloud Champion with over 20 years of hands on experience in the IT and Security Industry. He has extensive experience in business practices, operational leadership, technology and management. Sal is also a community leader who is seen as a role model for inner city, minority, young men and women who are born into poverty and surrounded by drugs and violence. Sal was born into the bottom of the inner city of Orange, New Jersey, surrounded by drugs, violence and crime but he always wanted more for himself. He wanted to become a business man and to give back to the community and society as a whole. As a result, he has been in the IT & Security industry for over 20 years.

Sal’s goal has always been to leave a legacy for others to follow and he believes that it is not where one starts but where one ends. The only way a person can overcome most hardships is education, so he has actively sought out and read self help books, attended lectures and took every free business course available to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Currently, he is a member of the EY minority, small business network, the Chase JP Morgan minority, small business network, and the Microsoft Black Partner Network. This all contributed to helping Sal get ready to accomplish his lifelong goals and dreams.

About DGX Security

DGX Security (DGX) is a value-added, technology reseller. They specialize in IT Modernization, Zero-Trust WIFI, Cloud Services and Artificial Intelligence. They have IT & Security Solutions and Services all in one place. Clients can expect to save money on their monthly cyber security insurance by using their IT Modernization/Cyber Security solutions. DGX is ACDBE, DBE, SBE & MBE certified.

What does being a minority business, or supporting minority businesses, mean to you?

Being a minority business owner or entrepreneur, automatically comes with being a role model and community leader, which I appreciate and take very seriously. I am always willing to share knowledge and words of wisdom with younger brothers and sisters who have recently became involved in business. It is one of the reasons I am so appreciative of being part of so many professional networks.

Each One, Teach One!

How has being certified with the NMSDC helped your business?

We recently became active members but plan to reach out to the corporate members to build relationships and see what technology pain points we can help to resolve. Looking forward to seeing how the NMSDC can help our business.

What is one thing you wish you had known when you were starting out in your career?

The importance of networking and making new friends.

For more information on DGX Security please visit: dgxsecurity.com or follow them on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram

MBE Spotlight: Brett Bucktooth

Brett Bucktooth is the Supplier Diversity Manager at Ongweoweh. Before starting his career he grew up on a small Native American reservation in Onondaga, NY—located just 3 miles south of Syracuse. His first passion in life is lacrosse, which is a part of who the Onondagas are as a people—from birth to death. Lacrosse is deeply rooted in their history as they believe it is a gift from their Creator. As he continued to play the game and excel, the dream of pursuing a college education came true and he was able to earn a degree at Syracuse University. After graduating he played professional lacrosse for 12 years while also working as a financial planner for Mass Mutual. After he completed his professional career, he got married. Brett’s wife’s name is Sateiokwen and in her Mohawk language the translation is, “She picks things up easily”. Fitting as she now harvests medicines and continues to use the language in running her own business. Brett is also a proud father to his children, Brett Jr and Aura, whom each have their traditional Mohawk names.

In 2019, Brett transitioned his career to the world of pallets. He started out at Ongweoweh Corp as an Account Manager, where he oversaw the pallet category for two national accounts. A year later Brett transitioned to become the Supplier Diversity Manager. Since assuming that role he has implemented a new Standard Operating Procedure and fostered numerous business relationships at national conferences and trade shows on behalf of Ongweoweh Corp. One of the biggest takeaways he has learned in his role is being a champion for diverse suppliers and sharing the integral role they play in procuring and sustaining a strong, reliable supply chain.

About Ongweoweh

Established in 1978, Ongweoweh Corp was founded by Frank Bonamie. He started manufacturing pallets in upstate New York until the demand outgrew his work force. He then transitioned from a manufacturer into the national pallet management company it is today. Ongweoweh Corp is a Native American-owned, pallet management company providing competitive procurement, recycling services, and supply chain optimization programs. They provide custom reporting along with data and trend analysis for a very diverse customer base of Fortune 500 companies. Ongweoweh services a variety of industries, including food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, grains, chemicals, automotive components, oil, technology, corrugate, retail, and more.

What does being a minority business, or supporting minority businesses, mean to you?

As a minority owned business we understand there is no guarantee of business after an introduction. The hard work and consistent effort of providing trustworthy service while sustaining a healthy relationship are keys to success. As a minority owned business we understand the challenges and adversity small businesses experience. When Ongweoweh participates in an RFP/RFQ we’re forging new relationships with diverse suppliers knowing they’re driving innovation with creative responses to today’s challenges. In 2021 our diverse spend with suppliers exceeded $40 Million. Supporting minority owned businesses goes beyond market share; more importantly it’s good business to work with communities that support at the grassroots level. Strengthening the local economy leads to social and economic development which in turn spurns increased opportunities.

How has being certified with the NMSDC helped your business?

Since joining the NMSDC and becoming Corporate Plus, Ongweoweh has been able to widen its scope of business. By proving our capabilities and utilizing our membership in the NYNJMSDC; attending conferences and trade shows has been beneficial because it enables Ongweoweh to get out in front of prospective targets to create and generate opportunities through building relationships. When we speak about the success of our business we’re also speaking to the success of our diverse suppliers and our customers who believe in having a supplier diversity program being put into action. Partnering with a diverse supplier strengthens, stabilizes and adds flexibility within their supply chain.

What is one thing you wish you had known when you were starting out in your career?

I wish I had known how much industries across all platforms relied on the usage of pallets. There’s a saying I’ve become accustomed to hearing and sharing and that is, “pallets help make the world go ’round.” Now that I have an understanding of the integral role pallets play in the supply chain I have the utmost respect for all mills and lumber suppliers.

For more information on The Ongweoweh Corp please visit: ongweoweh.com or follow them on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram

MBE Spotlight: Xavier Armand

Xavier Armand’s story as it pertains to The Vaan Group starts back in 2010 when his partner, Chuong Nguyen-Thanh started a consulting group for a prominent E-Cigarette company. It was the new age of E-Cigarettes. Nobody knew what it was, but everybody wanted to get their hands on it. By day they were selling the product at street fairs, nightclubs, and fashion shows, and by night they were building the website. The website grew exponentially—bringing in $1.2 million in the first year. This would become a pivotal point in Xavier and Chuong’s career and would build the foundation of Vaan in the coming year when the E-Cigarette company took a downward turn. Like all entrepreneurs, when one door closes you begin hunting for the next. Chuong and Xavier knew they were far into building the website component of the business, from design to development, and knew what it took to develop a successful build. This was the kick-off to their agency, Vaan, as you know it today. After the early years of Vaan’s foray into website design and development, they began to make inroads with some very well known Fortune 500 companies that brought them in as experts to consult on user experience design and product strategy. Once they got their foot in the door, they continued to leverage their work and demonstrate the real value that they could bring to businesses of any size and across any vertical. As their client list grew in size and stature, they started building out a global team of technologists, which has been the foundation for all of the success they’ve achieved up until this point.

Vaan was officially founded in 2011. Xavier is now formally the Co-founder and CEO of the agency while Chuong is Co-founder and COO.

Vaan is a remote-first digital agency based in New York specializing in building scalable and future-proof eCommerce solutions for brand partners using award-winning design and engineering best practices. They pride themselves on being the bridge between business goals and technology by providing a combination of complex technical solutions and unique memorable designs. Through a problem-centric approach, they turn business requirements, UX requirements, marketing requirements, and creative design into captivating online experiences.

What does being a minority business mean to you?

Being a minority-owned business means a lot to Xavier as a founder, but it’s also one of the guiding values of their company. Growing up he always heard the saying “You can’t receive with a closed fist.” They are driven to support their community both financially but also with their time. He is partners with CodeNation and LEDA which is driven to provide resources and internships to youth in underrepresented communities. Representation matters and in the agency space the number of minority-owned businesses or minority founders is really low. Being in this position they are granted the opportunity to give light to the next generation of minority creatives and future agency founders.

How has being certified with the NMSDC helped your business?

The NMSDC is an amazing organization for many reasons. One is that they help to put minority-owned businesses in front of newer and bigger opportunities but it inevitably falls on our capabilities and what we have to offer that seals the deals. Here at Vaan, we are obsessed with results so this being a space where we can secure opportunities not only based on our background as founders but on the merits of our work as a whole company, means a lot to us.

What is one thing you wish you had known when you were starting out in your career?

Looking back there are a couple of things that come to mind at both the industry level and my career. Industry-wise I wish I knew the value service providers hold to tech solutions or software companies. For my career, I believe in being diligent in social media and building a presence early on would have been beneficial to the brand.

For more information on The VAAN Group please visit: vaangroup.com or follow them on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram

MBE Spotlight: Firoz Lalji

Firoz Lalji is chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Zones, LLC.

Throughout the company’s 30-year history, Firoz Lalji has provided the vision and leadership necessary to transform Zones into a global solutions provider and award-winning business enterprise.

Today Zones, LLC, is a global IT solutions provider that delivers products and services to help companies complete their digital transformation – from desktop to the data center – to the cloud and beyond. Zones’ expertise is reflected in our business model focusing on Global Supply Chain as a Service, IT Solutions, Cloud, and Managed Services. As a certified Minority Business Enterprise and holder of an elite Corporate Plus Certification, Zones LLC has proven their ability to support many of the world’s largest corporations.

In addition to Zones, Lalji owns the Fana Group of Companies, an investment holding company operating in the United States and Canada. Prior to his tenure at Zones, Lalji was the founder, president, and CEO of Kits Cameras, Inc., which he built into a chain of 225 stores across the U.S. and Canada. He sold Kits Cameras in 1997 and joined Zones as CEO in 1998.

Lalji was born in Uganda and obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the London School of Economics in 1969 and attended Harvard Business School from 1991 to 1993. He serves on multiple advisory boards, including the Board of Directors of US Bank of Washington, the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington, the London School of Economics, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Lalji is also founder and chairman of the Program for African Leadership (PFAL) Foundation www.pfalfoundation.org, which grants scholarships to African students. Additionally, he runs the Program for African Leadership at the London School of Economics.

For more information on Zones, LLC, follow them on LinkedIn or Twitter.

MBE Spotlight: Partake Foods


Denise Woodard is the Founder and CEO of Partake Foods, a natural food company that was inspired by her daughter’s experience with food allergies. Partake’s first product — delicious, better for you, allergy-friendly cookies — was launched in 2017 and can now be found in more than 8,000 retail outlets, including Target, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Walmart, and Whole Foods Market.

Partake also offers a selection of delicious, allergy-friendly products including crunchy and soft baked cookie flavors such as chocolate chip, birthday cake, and double chocolate In 2021, Partake released a line of baking mixes—brownie mix, blondie mix, and a pizza crust baking mix—all available on partakefoods.com. In January 2022, Partake introduced pancake & waffle mixes in classic & confetti flavors available at select Target stores nationwide.

Denise is the first Black woman to raise more than $1 Million publicly for a CPG food startup. To date, the company has raised over $7.5M from investors including HER, Rihanna, CircleUp Growth Partners, FF2032 and Marcy Venture Partners.

Prior to launching Partake, Denise spent a decade in consumer packaged goods at various Fortune 100 companies. She lives in New York City with her husband, Jeremy, and daughter, Vivienne. She graduated with her BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MBA from Arizona State University.

All Partake offerings are certified gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan and are free of the top 9 allergens (wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, fish, sesame and shellfish). The products are made with love, better-for-you ingredients, and offer a variety of flavors that those with and without dietary restrictions can enjoy.

For more information, please visit: partakefoods.com or follow @PartakeFoods on Instagram.

MBE Spotlight: Masterex Technologies Inc.

Masterex Technologies Inc. established with a goal to provide the best, most cost-effective solutions to their client’s information management needs. They provide objective business advice to help their clients achieve market-leading results. More and more companies are turning to Masterex Technologies Inc. to help them create business value through technology that translates into superior market share, revenue and profitability.

Masterex can assist both medium and large enterprises deploy and manage Workday, whether it is Workday HCM, Workday Financial Management, or any other Workday offering. With tomorrow on its way, they are here to help you get there faster. Workday continues to evolve and they are already prepared for the future. Here you will find all information about Workday Cloud Platform, which already offers you a real added value.

Starting with Workday or a long-time user, their perspective and resources run enterprise-wide, so they can go all in and deliver end-to-end or optimize what their client currently have. Whatever client need, they ensure every deployment adds up to sustainable growth—in the now-term and into the future.

Their consulting services put the power of the cloud and cognitive technologies to work to drive digital innovation and increase employee engagement. From strategic consulting services to cognitive solutions, Masterex can help our clients put the power of Workday’s cloud-based tool and cognitive tools. Modernising the way finance and HR teams operate and collaborate. With Workday services ranging from post go-live stabilization and release management to integrations monitoring and comprehensive health checks they have grown their business by providing our clients with superior support services.  

Masterex Technologies Inc. provides an enterprise-wide solution for core HR functionality, recruitment management; classification and compensation, absence management, position management, learning management, and talent and performance management. They also expertise in providing financial management and integration support.

They have a highly-qualified team that works diligently to implement, deploy & provide Workday support to all their clients. Since they are 100% focussed on Workday, they have passive Workday candidates reach out to them directly instead of posting their resumes online and that’s how they have a pool of talent.  

MBE Spotlight: The Sophia Consulting Firm


Based in New York City, The Sophia Consulting Firm LLC (SCF) is a strategic scientific marketing and communications consultancy that partners with global emerging and established life science organizations with the goal of amplifying scientific innovation. Key therapeutic areas of focus include oncology, women’s health, regenerative and aesthetic medicine.

SCF was founded in 2017 by Dr. Sophia Ononye-Onyia, a scientist, entrepreneur and strategic communications leader with over 15 years of cross-functional experience in the biopharmaceutical industry. While Dr. Ononya-Onyia has worked in many disciplines and acquired many honors and affiliations, her main focus is on areas of drug discovery, clinical development, medical affairs, commercial development, strategic marketing and corporate communications. Dr. Ononye-Onyia is also a leading STEM and diversity advocate with frequent speaking engagements and editorials in top media outlets. You can follow her on Twitter at @drsophiao to keep up on her busy schedule.

Amplifying Scientific Innovation®

The Sophia Consulting Firm’s proprietary Amplifying Scientific Innovation® platform utilizes a three-pronged approach to maximize visibility, scientific credibility and thought leadership for client partners via the curation of advisory services, an influential video podcast series and thought leadership pieces in leading media outlets.

In addition to its scientific strategy core, SCF also supports the amplification of credible scientific information via its acclaimed Amplifying Scientific Innovation Video Podcast. Since its launch on YouTube in June 2020, the series has received close to 1M views and showcased luminaires like the CEO of the American Cancer Society.

For more information, visit their website at sophiaconsultingfirm.com, or contact Dr. Ononye-Onyia at sophia@sophiaconsultingfirm.com.

AAPI Heritage Month Spotlight: Navin Persaud

As the Procurement Outreach Partner at  the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York (FHLBNY) for over four years Navin Persaud has been responsible for procurement, supplier diversity and facilities management in the Corporate Real Estate department.

Navin’s primary role is to support the procurement function, which includes supplier diversity initiatives under the pillars of governance, internal and external outreach, and education. In this role, Navin serves as a trusted adviser to the various business areas to ensure that policy requirements are met and procurement opportunities are provided to diverse suppliers whenever possible. Navin also partners with external organizations to promote the FHLBNY Supplier Diversity Program. 

In addition to Navin’s role at FHLBNY, he has served as the President of the Institute for Supply Management in New York and as the Director of Supplier Diversity. Navin was awarded the “Champion for Industry” award by Thomas Net in 2020 for his work in Supplier Diversity.

Previously, Navin worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, also in the procurement department,  where he developed his passion for promoting Supplier Diversity. 

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to Navin?

It is commendable to be able to celebrate AAPI Heritage month as part of the larger Supplier Diversity initiative. It is also equally important to be able to recognize the contributions of AAPI businesses and the positive impact on organizations and the American economy as a whole. 

AAPI businesses have been making great strides in bringing diverse perspectives, different cultures and business practices to organizations to enhance efficiency, promote cultural tolerance and acceptance, and to drive overall progress in advancing Supplier Diversity.

It is in this spirit that I would like to encourage AAPI businesses to continue to deliver on commitments, be innovative and to prove to organizations that Supplier Diversity is a true success, as Lamar Alexander puts it: “We are the only country in the world that has taken people from so many different backgrounds, which is a great achievement by itself, but an even greater achievement is that we have turned all of that variety and diversity into unity.” 

Women’s History Spotlight: Azra Khalfan-Kermali

Azra Khalfan-Kermali, is the founder and CEO of Away in a BOX, a division of Plaques by Azra and Signs and Lucite Products. Plaques by Azra is a trusted supplier for awards and signs and recently expanded to offer a Cultural Intelligence Training Program for employee engagement and leadership development.

Azra was born and raised in Queens, New York but has lived in Tanzania, UAE and has traveled the world extensively. She brings over two decades of entrepreneurial spirit, life experiences, education and passion into her new company— aimed at increasing diversity, equity and inclusion and helping with unconscious biases towards marginalized communities. Away in a BOX brings the world to you, one nation at a time through an experiential sensory BOX and educational culture training. 

Azra has been actively building her businesses through educational programs with organizations like the Dartmouth-Tuck School of Business – Minority Business Program and the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Program through the Tory Burch Foundation

Azra now lives in New York and Dubai with her husband Kazim and her parents. She has been actively involved with community fundraising and awareness towards assisting orphans, widows, empowerment through education and the building of wells in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.  

With her passion for advocacy, Azra sits on the NYNJ Council’s MBE Input Committee, the Queen’s District Attorney South Asian Advisory Committee and a co-chair for the Manufacturing Committee at the Queens Chamber of Commerce. She has also served on the Board of TPNY, a non-profit organization advocating for victims of Domestic Violence. In 2016, Azra was awarded the MBE Catalyst Award by the NMSDC. In 2019, Azra received the ACCION Award for Integrity.

She has been featured in four books including a New York Times bestseller: Tory Burch: In Color.  She is also a contributing writer for an industry specific online platform GraphicsPro and was featured on The Story Exchange, an online media outlet showcasing women entrepreneurs. In 2011, Azra and her mother were featured as the cover story for Azizah Magazine, which highlights the achievements of Muslim women around the world. 

In what little spare time she has, Azra enjoys hiking, kayaking and traveling. She is particularly intrigued by Middle Eastern architecture and enjoys learning about different cultures and visiting churches, temples and mosques.

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