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: Denene Rodney

Denene Jonielle Rodney is an award-winning researcher, graduate of business acceleration programs, and CEO of the qualitative and quantitative research design firm, Zebra Strategies. Through Zebra Strategies, Denene has worked with hundreds of companies across various industries like nonprofits, foundations, government agencies, and varying aspects of healthcare. Zebra Strategies serves these firms with the aim of engaging perspectives of differing cultures, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Known for her warmth and humor, Denene creates a safe space for people to have open conversations on any topic while maintaining a sense of easiness and respect. Since she founded Zebra Strategies in 2000, Denene’s life, mission, and message have been fully integrated into her company. From her early years, Denene saw that typically many people do not draw a great “ticket” in the “lottery of life.” Through Zebra Strategies, she has made it her goal to bring these voices to the forefront, lift them up, and make them a part of the bigger conversation, and thereby gently shaping the world into a better place.

For Denene, the goal has always been to look past the numbers. She looks at the heart of people’s stories to help understand their background and help their business. “When we research, we find where we’re the same, study why we’re different, and help find actionable solutions that help us weave a web of respect and togetherness.” Denene is an entrepreneur driven by her passion for the communities that she serves. Through her work, she realized that her community and business belong not to just one, but the culmination of so many other communities. This helped her to find common ground, see people as individuals, and marry the perspectives for real-life change.

About Zebra Strategies

Zebra Strategies is a certified woman and minority-owned, integrated, qualitative and quantitative market research and strategy firm. They specialize in marginalized, vulnerable, and hard-to-engage populations. Zebra Strategies has over 20 years of experience and over 400 client engagements across a wide range of industries like consumer products, B2B, Pharma, technology, public health, financial services, nonprofits, foundations, government agencies, and all aspects of healthcare. They focus on difficult-to-reach populations and targets and are known for their inventive recruitment and engagement strategies. Zebra Strategies offers an unparalleled approach to understanding the motivations and cultural nuances of underserved communities and the impact on products, services, social initiatives, and user experiences. Employing a nationwide staff of thirty dedicated professionals, Zebra Strategies has the ability to facilitate research in a number of languages. In each language, the team is highly skilled in engaging vulnerable populations, interpreting responses, and transforming insights into action.

Helping clients see beyond the numbers, Zebra Strategies as a whole is led by the mantra, “Be curious—but not judgmental.” It is this idea that allows the team to connect with various communities and gain insight on sensitive topics, providing safe spaces for candor and respect. 

It’s not just black and white. Zebra Strategies’ consultants are a mix of classically trained market researchers, strategists from advertising agencies, and academic researchers—resulting in a holistic portrait of marketing issues with actionable solutions. The mission is to amplify the voices of marginalized and vulnerable populations through meaningful qualitative & quantitative market research.

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

Being a minority business owner means I’m taking an active role in changing the landscape of what other aspiring entrepreneurs see. When trying to push forward, it’s encouraging to see other people who look like yourself making it on their own terms. Also, it means that I get to bring so many marginalized communities to the table with me when I take my seat.

How has being certified with the NMSDC helped your business?

NMSDC has brought awareness to my business and brand. Clients know who we are and trust us to serve.

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

There will always be something to overcome and people are not always as kind and professional as you think they should be. However, when servicing with dignity and passion, the rewards are always great.

For more information on Zebra Strategies, please visit: zebrastrategies.com or follow them on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, & Instagram.

MBE Spotlight: Mildred Tolentino

Mildred Tolentino has more than 20 years of experience in project and program management, design, and construction. While working at M TO Pros Development, she has been a dynamic leader in the construction industry with a “we can do it attitude”. Her current responsibilities include leading the company operations and account management. Mildred has an excellent track record for delivering complex projects within budget & schedule. Her diverse range of projects goes from the non-profit sector to commercial interiors, ground-ups, retail, residential, hospitality, industrial, healthcare and education. She prides herself in being an expert in baseline schedule development & resource allocation, financial planning, forecasting, and cost reductions strategies.

Before her work at M TO Pros Development, Mildred led the Cumming Construction New York office project management team of approximately 14 project managers and office operations. Previous to that Mildred was Vice-President of project management services at Jones Lang LaSalle. Mildred also worked at CBRE and was responsible for overseeing major renovations, new developments and new store openings for Bank of America. Previous to that Mildred worked at Leclere Assoc. Architects.

Mildred is a strong advocate for advancing women in the construction agency and serves on several boards of women-led organizations. Her passion is breaking down the barriers of entry for disadvantaged immigrants. Her uncompromising approach and advocacy are to ensure that we build young leaders through providing mentoring and leadership opportunities.

She currently resides in the New York/New Jersey area and enjoys spending time with family and friends both near and far.

About M To-Pros Development

M To-Pros is a Minority- and Woman-Owned Business certified in New York City, New York State, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Texas and Massachusetts. We provide Construction Management, Project Controls, and Project Administration services for the public and private sectors. Our portfolio includes commercial interiors, healthcare, education, housing, and more. We are a diverse company in our specializations and also our staff.  

What does being a minority business mean to you?

It means breaking down barriers of entry and providing opportunities for those that are disadvantaged to enter the construction industry.  It’s supporting fellow minority businesses in familiar ways to provide for a stronger network of professionals.

How has being certified with The Council helped your business?

It will provide an opportunity to network with the other corporate members and to gain an understanding of increased awareness for black owned businesses through various learning channels.

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

I wish I had known the value of networking and relationships. If I was aware of the magnitude of how leveraging relationships would be significant in building my career, I would have been more advantageous now in my business.

For more information on M To-Pros, please visit: mtopros.com or follow them on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, & Instagram.

MBE Spotlight: Udayan Bose

Udayan Bose Headshot

Udayan Bose, Founder and CEO of NetElixir, started the company with a vision to help retail businesses succeed online. As CEO, he has led the way in building NetElixir into a premier digital marketing agency, using smart, data-driven solutions to deliver exceptional performance for retailers across industries. Udayan’s exclusive focus on the digital retail space has helped NetElixir become a leader in the search marketing landscape while partnering with industry leaders like Google and UPS.

Prior to NetElixir, Udayan was the Director of Business Development at PartyGaming. He regularly lectures MBA classes at Cornell University, Baruch College, and the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, India, in addition to being an Innovation Fellow at Lang Center of Entrepreneurship at the Columbia Business School. Udayan has been featured in many of the most prominent online journals, including The New York Times, Forbes, AdWeek, eMarketer, and Media Post, among others.

Albert Einstein is one of Udayan’s biggest inspirations and, in fact, Einstein is the reason that NetElixir’s headquarters are in Princeton, NJ. Udayan prides himself on structuring NetElixir as a learning organization, both internally and externally. He leads with the notion of fail faster, which encourages his team to try new things, experiment, and learn from their mistakes or successes without fear holding them back. An open dialogue between himself and his employees is crucial to fostering creativity and collaboration. A hallmark of Udayan’s leadership style is his Sunday CEO notes that share the team’s recent accomplishments, new innovations in the e-commerce landscape, and thought-provoking ideas to keep the team connected. 

Udayan travels extensively to speak at trade shows and conferences, visit the team in person at our India office, and meet with clients. He’s excited about the near limitless opportunities available in the e-commerce industry and the chance to help more businesses succeed online!

About your company

NetElixir is an independent growth marketing agency for leading retail, DTC, and B2B brands. We have been driving profitable growth for e-commerce businesses since 2004, by combining a high-tech and high-touch approach to digital marketing. Leveraging our AI-powered digital marketing platform, LXRInsights, we predictably identify, engage, and win high-value customers through targeted demand generation campaigns on search, social, programmatic display, and retail media channels. Our strategic insights empower brands to humanize their customer relationships and draw the line between invasive and inventive marketing.

Currently, NetElixir is one of 27 agencies (and the only New Jersey-based agency) invited to sit on Google’s Leadership Circle.

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

Most importantly, being a minority business leader sends out a strong message about what my team and I stand for. We champion diversity and equal opportunity for all — these are in fact two core values I built NetElixir on. 

Being a minority leader means it is important to ensure my voice is heard. Recently, I sat on an agency executive committee at one of the top five tech companies and I was the only minority leader present. 

I work hard to build a community and a family, both personally and professionally, that constantly champions inclusion, openness, and diversity. At NetElixir, I am proud to facilitate a one global team mentality, where no matter our background or geographic location, we help one another, uplift each other, and dream big together.

How has being certified with the NMSDC helped your business?

I am a recent member of NMSDC, but I already feel the impact. Being certified strengthens our profile for larger brands who are looking for an agency that aligns with their diversity initiatives to complement and amplify their brand values. Most importantly, being certified means my team’s efforts toward greater diversity are being recognized and acknowledged.

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

I wish I had known more about the range of opportunities available to me. When I first started, I didn’t even know that such organizations existed or that I could make a career in search and build my own search marketing organization. If I had known the strong partnership ecosystem that is available to me, I could have tapped into this ecosystem earlier knowing that I have strong support systems in place and people to continually gain inspiration from.

NetElixir logo

For more information on NetElixir, please visit: netelixir.com or follow them on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, & Instagram

MBE Spotlight: Perry Wilson

Perry Wilson is a dynamic energy executive with 15 years of cross functional experience in wholesale and retail markets who has managed trading, pricing, risk, product development, asset management, acquisitions, marketing, and forecasting. He has a robust and working knowledge of all U.S. gas and power markets with a broad range of deep functional disciplines in IT and automation. 

While working at Northeastern Power, Perry is an outside-the-box thinker who is extremely driven and a candid individual that leads by demonstration and welcomes challenges. When not thinking of ways to increase Northeastern Power’s footprint in a mission to become the leading clean energy supplier, Perry enjoys traveling abroad and long distance running. 

Northeastern Power provides clean energy services and solutions to residential, commercial and industrial customers in all New York State markets. The Company is a customer focused ESCO, delivering clean economical and sustainable products that positively impact the community.

Northeastern Power, Inc. started as an energy consulting firm in 2015, offering sustainable solutions and automation to energy service companies in New York. In 2020, Perry realized the most efficient way to make a significant impact was becoming an energy service company (ESCO) to directly serve the community with clean energy and set higher standards for deregulation in underserved communities. The New York Public Service Commission approved Northeastern Power and Gas LLC as an ESCO in September 2021. Northeastern Power is currently serving thousands of customers throughout New York State – providing customers with renewable and reliable energy which enables them to manage their energy costs and make a clean impact in their community. 

About your company

Northeastern Power is a licensed, integrated clean energy provider offering electricity, natural gas, and sustainability solutions to residential, industrial, and commercial customers. Our mission is to empower communities with innovative and sustainable solutions through integrated energy services.


To ensure data transparency and integrity, we centralize data from multiple sources and employ proprietary technology. We provide our customers with detailed information about energy supply components, forecasted energy trends, and the impact of the product on the community.


We create unique structures with renewable generators, microgrids, and other energy companies, driving added value back to the customer


We focus on multiple aspects of sustainability including social-economic improvement, environmental impacts and ethical responsibility.

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

Being the first 100% African American owned energy supplier in New York means a lot to me, as it relates to social responsibility and much more. Supplying one of the largest and most important commodities while giving underserved communities access to clean energy gives me a sense of pride and responsibility. I feel uniquely positioned to positively impact my community on a large scale.

How has being certified with the NMSDC helped your business?

Being certified with NMSDC has helped in a number of ways including being provided a network of large corporate members that make a significant effort to support minority owned businesses, a NMSDC board that cares and are always looking for ways to drive our businesses forward – putting us in a position to succeed, and neighboring minority businesses supporting one another as we grow together. 

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

I wish I had known the full value of networking and taken more risk earlier in my career. Initially, I assumed the best way to succeed professionally was to follow the provided corporate structure/career path for growth; however, strategically aligning yourself within the company for visibility can be key. Driving value throughout departments outside of your own and regularly communicating with decision makers is also key to growth. 

For more information on Northeastern Power, please visit: nepower.com or follow them on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, & Instagram

MBE Spotlight: Rey Montalvo

Rey Montalvo - Headshot

Rey Montalvo has been working in the energy field for 50 years, with the last 35 years at one company, Consolidated Energy Design (“CED”). He started off as General Manager, and over time became the President & CEO. After gaining years of energy conservation expertise, he’s now focused on a higher subset called Smart Grid technology. Rey has been awarded three patents thus far by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. He believes strongly that this will become the future of Building Automation Systems (“BAS”) by leveling the playing field so that a Small-to-Medium-Size Businesses (“SMB”) can compete with any size company and use the money saved from significant energy reduction and monetary incentives earned from the Power Grid to help them optimize their networks. Now, SMBs can have extra money going to their bottom lines for improving their lifestyle, hiring more employees, expanding their businesses, helping reduce global warming, etc. At CED they put in the hard work to develop this disruptive hardware and software called FADRS™ so the client, can focus on their business and reap the financial rewards and the great feeling that comes with knowing they are doing their part to reduce carbon emissions and save the planet. While Rey’s work is his passion, most of his spare time is spent with family, spiritual activities, photography, and composing music.

About your company

Rey lived through that period of time in 1975 when the nation had to ration natural gas and gasoline. He witnessed firsthand significant price increases in both, and it brought home the fact that these fossil fuels weren’t going to last forever. They needed to conserve energy. Although most of his HVAC designs had an energy-saving controls component since the early 70s, in 1987 Rey began to focus on his dream of developing his vision of a better way to manage energy usage, reducing energy costs, and doing his share to help protect the environment. The turning point for Rey was when the NJ Board of Public Utilities punished Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) for their part in the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant in 1979. In the late 80s, JCP&L had to pay homeowners around the Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant in South Jersey to switch from electric heat to gas or oil heat. He remembers walking into someone’s home and seeing a large wood stove right in the middle of their living room. Rey asked, “Why do you have that there instead of by your outside wall?” The homeowner said that electric costs were so high that he had to make a decision every month, “Do I pay my mortgage, or do I pay the electric bill?” It was this interview that led to an epiphany. This is what the future would be like for America—and the world—and that conserving energy would be more important than ever. He was on the right track.

In 1999, Rey became President of CED and started to change the direction of the company, focusing his talents as an inventor and developing patents in the energy space. The old conventional methods and procedures were no longer effective in the rapidly changing energy landscape. What was needed was a disruptive solution designed to address energy usage, costs, and impact on the environment. CED commenced R&D activities and on October 8, 2008, Rey filed for a US Provisional Patent for such a system: FADRS™ (pronounced “faders”). This Fully Automated Demand Response and Reduction System was filed for patent review on October 8, 2009 and granted full patent status in late 2012. FADRS™ is a highly advanced and robust group of integrated software programs that work in conjunction with sophisticated commercially available BAS. FADRS™ is licensed to end-users in modules depending on the client’s needs. Since computers are faster than humans and are proactive, they are better suited to save significant money on energy, while at the same time minimizing human discomfort. 

Currently, CED is in the completion stage for our first Near Net Zero Energy Cost project for a commercial office building in Maryland. This project includes Solar PV with EV Chargers, a Distributed Gas Generator to provide 100% Business Continuity, battery storage, and two microgrids. One microgrid controls the large equipment so it runs in sync, while the other controls all aspects of energy usage from HVAC to Lighting to plug loads.

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

Many majority contractors believe that minority contractors are not equipped to provide the same level of service and performance that they can. However, we all know this is not the case. What is important to me is that my capabilities as a minority contractor demonstrate to the majority contractor that minorities can not only compete with them but can provide value-added services that they might not possess. For example, I hold 3 patents in a very high-level form of energy conservation called Smart Micro Grid and IoT “Mini BAS” Edge Control technologies. This is something that even the majority contractor does not have. I hope to demonstrate to those majority contractors that partnering up with minorities will help them gain a major competitive advantage in the bidding process above and beyond just satisfying minority quotas. Additionally, being a minority contractor born in the Panama Canal Zone from Puerto Rican parents, means that I have a different cultural experience. This allows me to think differently and hopefully, between this unique thinking process and that of the majority, a unique blended cultural approach will develop for the benefit of both parties and our clients. It is my expressed desire that this type of cooperative relationship between majority and minority contractors will enable me to engage the services of my fellow minority contractors so that they too can experience the better quality of life that we all aspire to.

How has being certified with the NMSDC helped your business?

Being part of the Council has opened opportunities to meet Fortune 500 companies and hopefully, these opportunities will materialize into added revenue. Membership with such a well-respected nationally recognized organization has boosted my company’s visibility and credibility with major organizations and possible future partners. Our company has started doing more work with city and state agencies and being certified with the NMSDC is a valuable asset when bidding on potential opportunities.

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

Time is money and there are only so many hours in a day reserved to sell your products and services. I should have learned to recognize sooner the people that were time wasters versus people that are really committed to working with me as a client and partner.


For more information on Consolidated Energy Design, Inc. please visit: fadrs.com or follow them on social media: Facebook & LinkedIn

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.

Back to top