Can’t think of a more apt way to wrap my trio of Black History Month postings (1, 2) on entrepreneurship than a chat with Paisley Demby. A familiar figure in the New York City small business community—formerly at both the Queens Economic Development Corporation and CAMBA—Paisley has helped to launch the two metro-area Business Plan Competitions underwritten by the Citi Foundation: Queens StartUP! and, most recently, the New York StartUP! He slso served as presenter and judge for Brooklyn PowerUP! Competition.
When I caught up with Paisley after his latest workshop at SIBL, I shared data relevant to our theme, i.e. that of the 390 entrants in the 2011 StartUP!, 37% describe themselves as African-American and 7% Caribbean Islander. Then we settled down for a chat.
After earning an Ivy league engineering and economics degree you started out in the corporate financial services sector. Why the leap to the riskier world of entrepreneurship?
I worked at JP Morgan on Wall Street after college, and returned to school for an MBA. While in grad school, I provided casual advice to two classmates on their course project, a business plan. After graduation they continued to seek my advice. Curious, I asked them why they chose me out of all the other available resources. Their response—"You give us the best advice"—was an “aha” moment for me. I researched the business development process and began to assist entrepreneurs in developing business plans and raising capital. Even with the nominal fee I initially charged, I determined that I could generate more revenue than I was earning in my post-MBA day job. I resigned and started my consulting business.
My siblings have taken over our dad’s two small businesses, so I have to ask, is striking out on one’s own a Demby family tradition?
My mother was an entrepreneur of sorts who ran a small desktop publishing company, The Letter Shop, out of our home for several years before dissolving the venture. She recently wrote a book that she’s busy promoting. Growing up, entrepreneurship was not a core focus—or so I thought. My mother instilled the value of earning everything. I took on odd jobs very early cutting grass, shoveling snow, and cleaning apartments. By age 12, I was a paper boy for the Baltimore Sun. After achieving honor carrier for several years, I’d saved enough money to buy my first car at the age of 16. Reflecting back, I now realize I was learning the basics of entrepreneurship—marketing, sales, operations, and finance.
There’s a bio item that’s intrigued me over the years I’ve introduced you at SIBL events—the Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award. Tell me more, please.
The Board of the Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference is comprised of African-American MBA candidates at Wharton where, since graduation, I have been actively involved in student mentoring and recruitment for the college at large. I volunteer not only for the New Venture Competition of the Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference but also for the Wharton Business Plan Competition. Every year I attend recruitment events and assist prospective MBA candidates with the application process. I do it because someone helped me.
You’ve mentioned knowing the value of good advice since a professor steered you in a new direction at Brown. Is there a Demby advisee who’s taken your input and run with it?
Here’s my "shout out" to Elissa Olin of Green in BKLYN. Elissa first came to CAMBA with an idea, like many first-time entrepreneurs. Her dream was to create a one-stop shop for everything to make your home green or to continue to live a green lifestyle. Unlike most, Elissa not only followed the advice and direction of her business counselor, but in less than a calendar year she enrolled in CAMBA's 10-week business plan development course, "Taking Care of Business;" wrote her business plan for which she won 2nd prize in a competition; obtained a grant from a BID; obtained several startup loans (one from CAMBA), secured and built out a retail location in Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn. She opened her business on Earth Day. Very few entrepreneurs go from idea to launch in less than a year. She's interviewed here.
Thanks, Paisley. Maybe I can catch up with her for a chat on Earth Day this April.