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Local entrepreneurs, alumni share recipes for success

A lemonade stand in the summer or a lawn-mowing job may be the farthest most children get in starting their own business, but the four Calvo children of Cary, N.C. have set their hearts on bigger dreams--a thriving cookie- and pie-baking business.

Siblings Joseph, Paul, Mia and Ashlyn, ranging in age from eight to 12 years old, shared their passion and recipe for success with the participants of Saturday's L.E.A.P. African American Panel Discussion about Entrepreneurship, sponsored by the Black History Month Committee.

In the opening panel discussion of the first annual event for L.E.A.P.--Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Achievement and Prosperity--the Calvo siblings described their faith as the basis of their business, P&J Sweet Treats. Started in response to their pastor's challenge to help their church become debt-free, the company now reaps enough profits to donate part of the earnings to charity.

"[Our faith] helps us strive to do better--even if we're down, we keep doing it," said Chief Executive Officer Joseph Calvo, who is 10 years old. "I've also learned from this experience that you should always persevere and strive for the best."

Although 12-year-old Paul Calvo, the chief financial and technology officer, acknowledged the difficulties of being in a business, he also encouraged the approximately 25 participants from various colleges to identify their passion and go for it.

"Turn your hobby into a wonderful business. Whatever you like to do, you can make it into a business," Paul said.

During lunch, the participants divided into groups to plan their own businesses. The Calvo siblings judged the ideas and awarded a Streets at Southpoint gift certificate to the best proposal.

The second panel discussion, which featured eight student and professional entrepreneurs, addressed the ideals necessary for succeeding in an environment into which not many African Americans venture.

Senior Arun Gupta, the founder of Devil Laundry Inc., had to make a crucial business decision two years ago--stay with the flourishing Devil's Delivery Service as a shareholder and integrate a laundry service into its structure or start an independent business. He chose the latter.

"I left and started my own business and now we make half of what DDS does and we've only been around for two years," he said.

Senior Hillary Fowler, president of the Black History Month Committee, attributed the smaller-than-anticipated turnout to the early event time, but was pleased overall.

"It was a wonderful success and has set precedence for future years to come. A lot of the [speakers] we invited are very enthusiastic about keeping this relationship up," she said.

Various professional entrepreneurs drew on their experiences in advising the audience.

Genevia Gee Fulbright, an accountant and personal consultant, said, "You must have motivation and persistence--knocking on every door until you can get a 'yes.'"

She also stressed the need for enthusiasm in order to have a successful venture.

Although most people aren't born with all those qualities, Duke alumnus Isaac Green said they could be cultivated by taking risks.

The President and CEO of Piedmont Investment Advisors also encouraged potential entrepreneurs to work for others first so they know what they're doing before starting on their own.

Other speakers highlighted the importance of resourcefulness and team-building, and some drew on their experiences to advise the audience.

"Qualities can be cultivated, but you should have enough sense to learn what qualities you don't have and surround yourself with people who [have those,]" said Taylor Sparks, the Principal Encourager of Sparks & Associates.

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