While working as a teacher's aide at a Baltimore County elementary school, LaRue Stanley noticed that many of the students weren't learning etiquette at home.
So, she converted a bedroom in her home into a tea room and started throwing parties for kids to teach them manners.
Now, Stanley wants to turn her hobby into a business. She's already got a name for the company, Tenderheart Creations. Yesterday, she came to the third annual African American Business Forum to learn how to incorporate her business and get tips on finding money to start it.
"I'm living a dream now," said Stanley, 51. "But I'd like to turn it into more and even run a business full time."
Stanley was one of 600 business owners - and those dreaming of owning one - who came to yesterday's forum at the Hyatt Regency.
Visionary Marketing Group Inc. and the Governor's Task Force on African-American Entrepreneurship in Baltimore City were the hosts for the forum, which was billed as a way to help empower African-American businesses.
"If we don't have a voice we're just going to get lost in the shuffle," said LaRian Finney, president and chief executive officer of Visionary Marketing Group.
Sitting around tables and chairs lined up against the walls, the participants learned lessons on how to win government contracts, finding the money to start a business and lobbying government officials to protect their interests.
They also heard inspirational stories from successful entrepreneurs.
Van De Ward Woods talked about how his family founded the famed Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem, with money his grandmother raised by mortgaging her farm. The family now owns a second soul food restaurant in Atlanta, a food product line and a hair care line.
Woods said he is scouting areas in Baltimore to open another Sylvia's Restaurant. He said he has been in discussions with the Baltimore Development Corp. and the city's Office of Minority Business Development.
"Baltimore is an area where Sylvia's would like to locate," Woods said. "It has the right urban and suburban flavor."
Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke encouraged the crowd to read books by successful black business leaders, such as Earl G. Graves, the founder and publisher of Black Enterprise - the first magazine devoted to minority-owned businesses. He is the author of the 1997 best-seller, How to Succeed in Business Without Being White.
Schmoke warned the attendees not to depend solely on government contracts, because businesses can make more money with other entrepreneurs.
He also said that racism and a lack of capital are still problems for minority businesses, even though the spotlight may often focus on black executives at Fortune 500 companies.
"There is a perception that the problems that used to face African-American entrepreneurs in the past don't exist anymore," Schmoke said. "The bad news is that it does still exist."