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Originally published Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 8:01 PM

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Minority Business Hall of Fame has new home — in Seattle

The decade-old Minority Business Hall of Fame will get its first actual home at UW’s Foster School of Business. Also, Nordstrom ramps up the Rack’s online presence, and Eastside youngsters show it’s never too early to be entrepreneurs.


Seattle Times business staff

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For 10 years, the Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum has been limited to a website. But starting Tuesday, the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business will be its new home.

Founded in 2004 by the leaders of two minority business advocacy groups — the National Minority Business Council and the Minority Business News USA — the Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum honors individuals and institutions who’ve been instrumental in the development and growth of minority businesses across the country.

Since inception, more than 50 people and businesses have been inducted into the hall, and Tuesday five more will be honored, including two based in the Seattle area.

Last year, UW business-school professor and former dean William Bradford, who studied minority entrepreneurship, was added to the list of inductees. A month later, the Hall of Fame board approached the Foster School of Business with a request to collaborate on the exhibit, and a partnership was created.

The arrangement “is an important milestone, and it takes recognizing minority business leaders to a new level,” John F. Robinson, president and CEO of the Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement.

The exhibit spans 100 feet of wall in Mackenzie Hall on UW’s campus and is run by the business school’s Consulting and Business Development Center, which has long advised and promoted minority businesses across the state. Seattle-based SuperGraphics created the exhibit at no charge, a donation of close to $10,000.

Michael Verchot, director of the Consulting and Business Development Center, said the business school hopes the exhibit, which includes photos and biographies of inductees, will inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders.

“The people we will honor in the exhibit are trailblazers. They are courageous innovators and entrepreneurs who took risks and broke new ground. They saw opportunities where others didn’t,” Verchot said.

“As our students read these stories and interact with the inductees each year, they will be challenged to think about how they can be trailblazers in their own right.”

This year’s group of inductees includes Uganda native Firoz Lalji. He co-founded Zones, an information-technology company based in Auburn; he also founded Seattle’s Kits Camera before selling it in 1997.

“When I first heard that I was being inducted into the Minority Business Hall of Fame, I looked behind me to make sure they were talking to me,” Lalji said in an email. “I am proud to be representing Seattle.”

The founders of Liberty Bank are also being inducted into the Hall of Fame. The bank in Seattle’s Central District was started in 1967 by 10 business leaders who witnessed African Americans’ isolation from the economic prosperity in the surrounding city.

The Foster School of Business and the Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum signed a five-year partnership agreement, and the exhibit will change annually as new people are inducted. They also plan to jointly sponsor conferences on the state of minority-owned businesses and engage faculty in building the next generation of honorees.

— Coral Garnick: cgarnick@seattletimes.com

Nordstrom kicks off its Rack website

First, it was a landing page on the “sale” section of Nordstrom.com. Then, for a brief time, it was simply an online marketing tool. But now, Nordstrom’s discount Rack chain has its own full-blown e-commerce website.

The Seattle retailer launched NordstromRack.com earlier this month with a key assist from HauteLook.com, a flash-sale website bought by Nordstrom three years ago.

President Blake Nordstrom, speaking at the company’s annual shareholder meeting Wednesday in downtown Seattle, said Nordstrom went to Los Angeles-based HauteLook last summer to tap its expertise with an online, off-price offering.

“The HauteLook folks have helped us be a little more nimble, a little more scrappy,” he said.

Together, they built a shared platform that displays some 30,000 Rack items, plus limited-time deals on designer brands from HauteLook.

Visitors to NordstromRack.com can click on a tab at the top to browse HauteLook merchandise, and vice versa. The site offers free shipping for orders over $100 (in contrast to the no-minimum-purchase requirement at Nordstrom’s full-price website), and a 90-day return window. What’s more, returns can be made at any Rack store or by mail.

Jamie Nordstrom, president of the company’s Direct division, which includes its websites, said fulfilling online orders is more logistically challenging with clearance merchandise than when “you’re bringing in a full-size run of the latest and greatest stuff.”

“It’s all shrink-wrapped. It’s perfect and ready to go. That’s our full-line experience,” he said. “In off-price, you’re missing sizes. That merchandise is all over the place, and you’ve got to consolidate it down. The way you manage that and the shopping experience is different.”

Blake Nordstrom noted that “sooner would have been better” for the Rack’s e-commerce debut, but “we’re just going as fast as we can.”

He acknowledged that “there are things about the execution of the site that are not perfect, but what really mattered was there was a strong interest by the customer.”

Indeed, Nordstrom’s online business and Rack division are growing quickly; together, they’re projected to account for half of all sales in the next few years, up from 38 percent now.

The company sold $2.7 billion in discounted merchandise at about 140 Rack stores last year, a 12 percent increase. The online business grew nearly 30 percent to $1.6 billion.

Nordstrom’s 117 full-scale stores, by comparison, generated $7.7 billion in sales last year, a 3 percent drop.

To handle an increasing number of online orders, Nordstrom is expanding its distribution network with a third fulfillment center next year in Elizabethtown, Pa.

“We want to get merchandise as close to customers as possible because that’s how you get the delivery speed,” Jamie Nordstrom said. “As the business grows, we’ll be adding more fulfillment centers. As we increase that capacity, we’ll also add speed.”

— Amy Martinez: amartinez@seattletimes.com

Youth pitch business plans

After a fist bump and words of encouragement from her dad, 12-year-old Suzy Mahlman and her business partner Logan Richards nervously waited to present their business plan — Shark Tank style.

Up against 13 other companies competing for some of the $8,000 up for grabs, the duo asked a panel of potential investors for $536.25 to cover startup costs for Suzillo Designer Backpacks.

With their bright purple, blue and green prototype in hand, Mahlman and Richards, both sixth-graders and co-CEOs of the company, pitched a lightweight backpack to replace the heavier go-to backpacks of middle-school girls.

“Let us make your school day lighter,” they said in unison, capping off their pitch.

The May 1 investors’ panel was one of the final steps in a 22-week course created by the national Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) and sponsored by the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce. The course is for students from the sixth through the 12th grade.

“It is important for the kids to understand business,” said Betty Nokes, president and CEO of the Bellevue Chamber. “That entrepreneurial spark is what propels a community forward, and these kids are the future of our community.”

Amrita Ram, a junior at Newport High School, received $3,600 to start Fresh Steps, which offers The Eco Board — flooring that can be placed in public areas to harness energy from footsteps and transfer it in to electricity. Ram said the flooring could potentially supply enough electricity to run an entire building with high foot traffic, like a school or a mall.

Even though some of the “sharks” didn’t fully understand the science behind Ram’s product, which uses piezoelectric crystals, they said they recognized the 16-year-old’s potential.

Ram was named a finalist Friday night at the regional YEA! Saunders Scholar Competition in Frisco, Texas. She will represent Bellevue at the national competition in Washington D.C. in June. Winners will be announced June 12 and will receive between $20,000 and $50,000 in college scholarships as well as an audition for ABC’s TV show Shark Tank.

“I’m just passionate about saving the environment and willing to put all my energy into creating a more sustainable world,” Ram said

Unlike the TV show, where the sharks can be harsh, the local panelists awarded each of the 13 businesses some money.

Mahlman and Richards received $200 for their backpack.

“It’s about the whole process of getting up there and being able to do this,” said Mahlman’s mother, Michelle Mahlman . “We’re just very proud of what they’ve done.”

— Coral Garnick: cgarnick@seattletimes.com



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