2017 – Local Entrepreneur Launches Diverse Organic Product Line

Published in the Bay State Banner, January 11, 2017

Photo: courtesy Made Organics

There are few things more comforting than a mother’s touch — whether it’s a homemade meal, a note in your lunchbox, or a buttery moisturizer.

Bernette Dawson, mother of two, sells handcrafted organic, grooming products using only fair trade ingredients through her business, Made Organics, LLC. The “made” stands for Mother Approved Daily Essentials, which is organized as a limited liability corporation.

With items like white mint cocoa whipped butter or cold-pressed argan oil, Dawson creates simple, but luxurious beauty staples that everyone and anyone can use.

Formally Lady B Naturals, Made Organics began as a home experiment. During one of Boston’s harsh winters, Dawson set out to make a soothing, safe and all-natural skin remedy for her son.

She spent about three years researching and working in her kitchen, trying out different ingredients and recipes. “When I found something that worked, I used it for myself and my sons,” said Dawson.

Friends and family were soon clamoring to try Dawson’s creations, and one friend even asked her to include one of her creams in a gift basket she was giving away at an event. “At that point, if I wanted to put this product in this basket and people liked it, I wanted them to be able to go to a website and order more if they wanted,” said Dawson.

Early support

In 2015, when the company started out with the name Lady B Naturals, Dawson was selected as a cohort for Babson’s College’s WIN Lab accelerator program.

The program is open to Babson College students and alumni, with only a couple spots given to Boston-based female entrepreneurs via a partnership with the City of Boston’s Women on Main Initiative. Dawson recalls a pivotal moment during a pitching session with a live audience and a panel of judges.

One of the judges was brutally honest. “She said, ‘I love your product and story, I hate your brand’”, said Dawson.

She was undeterred, however, and gained invaluable advice from the critical judge. “After the pitch, I pulled her aside and asked her what I could do better,” said Dawson. “She said ‘Lady B Naturals is not you. Tell your story.’”

Hardly unable to sleep, Dawson thought about what the judge said for the rest of the night and woke up the next morning with a new idea. “I don’t know why but Made has to be in the title of our new brand,” Dawson told her husband Abdul, who she considers her business partner. A focus group on Facebook with 60 friends and family helped the Dawsons decide on Made Organics, and the new company was born.

Read the rest here.

2016 – Chef-entrepreneurs open eatery on Roxbury/South End border

Published in the Bay State Banner, December 21, 2016

Photo by Jose Luis Martinez

For Douglass Williams, Italian cuisine is the most relatable food in the world. Perhaps it’s the comforting flavors of olive oil and Parmesan, or the versatility of pasta, but Williams believes it can bring people together.

MIDA, which is Italian for “he gives me,” is a new restaurant venture by Williams and Brian Lesser. The restaurant is located at 782 Tremont Street in the South End, on the edge of Roxbury — a distinction of neighborhoods that was not lost on anyone, Williams said. Despite economic and racial divisions, “What can bring two sides together?” he asked. “I thought about what I like to do the most, what I like to serve the best, what I like to teach people the most, and I said, ‘Pasta.’”

Williams’ theory about Italian food being widely loved is an educated one, drawing on 13 years of chef experience, including five whirlwind years traveling the world. Originally from Atlantic City, his culinary roots are in Boston where he first worked at Radius and then at Coppa, where he “just fell in love” with the process of making pasta, he said.

He left Coppa to go to Thailand. “I wanted to learn more about other cuisines and see how that relates,” he said. He taught Thai locals how to make pasta, and learned how to make rice-based noodles. Then came a stint in New York City, where he worked at Paul Liebrandt’s Corton. Liebrandt, in 2000, was the youngest chef ever to earn a three-star review from The New York Times, at age 25.

Teamwork

Williams then spent some time in Paris, further refining his skills. “What I learned the most was that everybody there owned restaurants at 26 or 28 years old. And I said, ‘What am I doing here?’” He returned to Boston with one goal in mind.

Opening MIDA with Lesser was something he could not have done by himself, said Williams.

“Having a good partner really, really helps. And getting people to be honest with you, hiring the right people from the start,” he said. “You need to let people help you.”

Williams reached out to the Boston-based Restaurant Investment Group, a collective of restaurant and financial consultants spearheaded by real estate lawyer Dan Dain that provides access to capital and financial expertise to young chefs.

“We had conversations, tastings, and lessons on what needed to be done, as far as financial commitment, contracts, personal commitments, everything,” said Williams. MIDA is RIG’s first investment so far, with other restaurant openings in the works.

Read the rest here.

2016 – Paying it Forward in the IT Business

Published in the Bay State Banner, July 13, 2016

After working in the information technology industry for 13 years, Reinier Moquete witnessed the emergence of cloud computing and founded Advoqt Technology Group in 2012 to help usher companies into a new era of easier, cheaper and quicker data storage and protection.

“Our goal is to be at the intersection of cloud computing and cyber security,” said Moquete.

Advoqt, pronounced as “advocate,” comes from the company mission to be a strong proponent for clients’ technological needs, while the “qt” is a nod to Moquete’s name.

Moquete was born in New York City and spent the majority of his childhood traveling back and forth between the Washington Heights neighborhood of his hometown and the Dominican Republic. Moquete moved to Boston in 1999 to start fresh and pursue his childhood interest in technology engineering.

“As a kid I was tempted by certain dark elements of street life,” Moquete said of his life in New York. “I lost many friends to violence or prison. I had to work hard to put that behind me and get myself into college.”

Moquete attended Bunker Hill Community College, obtaining associate’s degrees in finance and business administration, then graduated from Pace University with a degree in telecommunications. He worked for various corporations over the years and then, struck out on his own.

“I saw an opportunity whereby a lot of companies were thinking about cloud computing but weren’t sure how to execute it and capitalize on it,” Moquete said.

The Advoqt Technology Group includes 17 employees and 30 contractors, and is certified as a Minority Business Enterprise and a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise. As CEO, Moquete emphasizes social impact as one of the company’s main goals.

“We believe in paying it forward,” he said. “We want to invest in people who are then going to make the same investments for the next generation.”

STEM Alliance

In 2010, Moquete co-founded Latino STEM Alliance, a 501(c)(3) organization that engages underrepresented youth in science, technology, engineering and math through afterschool programs. Two years ago, he also started the Diversity IT Network, a community that brings together information technology professionals of multicultural backgrounds and connects them to career development and personal growth opportunities.

As a company, Advoqt invests time and resources into initiatives like Latino STEM Alliance and Diversity IT Network. It acts as a liaison between multicultural technology professionals and job opportunities either internally, or as a way to fulfill their clients’ staffing needs.

According to statistics released by The U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index, in 2015 African-American and Latino workers represented 29 percent of the general workforce population, but just 16 percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce, 15 percent of the computing workforce and 12 percent of the engineering workforce — rates that have virtually remained flat since 2000. White and Asian individuals dominate 83 percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce, 84 percent of the computing workforce and 87 percent of the engineering workforce.

“As a business owner, I have the discretion to say, this is the kind of business that I’m building,” said Moquete. “It’s going to create opportunities for folks of all backgrounds. … It’s going to help us all generate personal wealth but do so in a way that is also contributing to the good of our community.”

Diversity is critical for Moquete and his company, not only on a social impact level, but also on a strategic level. “It gives us different perspectives and different points of view to solve a problem,” he said.

But more than anything, when hiring, Moquete looks for attitude and work ethic. “I love hiring people who are demonstrated hustlers,” said Moquete. “Somebody who, despite every obstacle, has found a way to be successful.”

Moquete did not have any capital when he started Advoqt but had already garnered active customers from his previous jobs that allowed the company to float for a couple of years.

“When I decided to go off on my own, there were a number of customers that supported me,” he said. “But then, being out there, hustling, beating the bush, we were able to secure major customers that have functioned as anchors and from which we scaled.”

Advoqt grew 300 percent last year and Moquete is hoping to continue with similar momentum through strategic partnerships with mid-sized business clients.

According to Moquete, the ever-increasing sophistication of hackers only makes the need for cybersecurity through cloud computing even more urgent.

“Hackers are far more advanced than your average business owner, which allows for a business like mine to prosper,” he said.

Photo provided by Reinier Moquete