You can call Garnett Newcombe a visionary in many ways. In 1997, the then-sociology professor had the foresight to launch a business that would go on to help many men and women through the recent economic downturn.
Newcombe's vision was to help specialized populations, including disabled individuals, 17- to 25-year-olds and those on probation and parole, to find jobs.
She channeled her impressive list of government contacts, and used more than 50 years of combined experience with her sister-turned-business-partner, Joyce Keener. Her company, Human Potential Consultants (HPC), a labor of love, now brings in more than $10 million in revenue each year.
Newcombe recently explained to The Huffington Post how she got past the point of almost giving up to build HPC.
What exactly is HPC and how did it get started?
In 1997, my sister and I established HPC to address [government agencies'] needs when it comes to workforce development and job creation. We're just like an alternative resource for the government, working with specialized populations. That was our No. 1 focus when we started out ... because those specialized populations fall through the cracks. They want to go back to work, but they really didn't understand what work was or what the employers expect. We develop employment preparation and work with businesses in the community to find out exactly what their needs are and then place the individuals within the community.
What did your professional background consist of prior to launching HPC?
I had an array of professional experiences -- I was a professor for a university here in California in sociology. That was the bridge that [allowed me to] identify the populations that we work for and recognize those needs. I was also able to identify where the funding sources were.
My sister, on the other hand, worked with [those specialized populations] on a day-to-day basis. She was a manager for the Michigan Department or Rehabilitation and focused on job creation for persons with disabilities.
When you put those two things together -- the research and her hands-on experience -- we were able to create this business.
What exactly do your services consist of and how does that translate into a $10 million business?
The cornerstone of everything we do is employment. There are instances where the federal government requires program management and companies like ours to come out and run programs with specialized populations. For example, the Social Security Administration had a need for our services in reaching individuals who were on Social Security, but wanted to go back to work. We were able to submit our programs through a bid process and they accepted it. We ran [it] for five years.
From an entrepreneurial perspective, how do you go about obtaining big contracts like that?
When we opened up offices in California, it wasn't quite that easy because most of the government agencies were used to working with non-profit organizations, so we had to do some convincing of various government agencies, as well as the non-profits. We had to say, "Hey, we're just an alternative resource for you to provide those services you already provide. [But] what makes us [different] is ... customized service."
It's a process, but it can be done. You have to do your research and match your services to what the needs are of the government and then you become a player.
How has the company evolved since you launched it in 1997?
When we first started, it was just my sister and I and we had two other staff members. In 2006, we came to a plateau. We weren't able to grow the company. We were having issues of how to diversify, so what we had to do was go back to the drawing table and figure out how to really restructure. We hired individuals to work on contracts, individuals to worked on just the program part. We increased our staffing to 10. When we started getting projects in, we grew from a staff of 10 to 125 in 2009.
Right now, because of the economic downturn, some of the state and federal programs have stopped and we have gone down to 55 people. But when they did do that, because of the way we structured the business, it didn't take HPC all the way down.
In the near 15 years that your company has been in existence, how long has it taken you to see an annual revenue of $10 million?
To be perfectly honest, I didn't realize it when I first started out, but I always knew that we had the missing link and I knew that I just had to figure out how to tap into the funding sources. I knew that there were a lot of funds out there to be able to provide these services, but until I learned how to do research, I didn't know how much!
As a black entrepreneur, what do you think the biggest challenges are?
I think about that constantly. One of the major challenges that my sister and I had when we first started was being able to find resources. Everybody has a problem with cash flow, but I'm talking about resources in knowing and understanding exactly how you develop a business model.
You have to have a plan to be able to sustain [your business] while you're looking for additional funding sources. I found out that there were different areas like the Small Business Administration, where we were able to get certified as an 8(a) and have bids set aside just for our services, without being competitive.
Those are the type of resources that are out there for African-American or minority-owned businesses that we sometimes don't tap into, but the government buys millions and millions of dollars of those services. Once you identify that you have to be able to work it. It's not going to come to you. It requires a lot of work and persistence and focus.
I know a lot of time -- as a woman-owned business and an African American -- I operate from my heart, but you really have to also structure your business so it won't be classified as a "mom and pop."