In 2006, Necole Parker was at her lowest point. Going through a divorce with a son to raise on her own, while wading through mountains of debt. Even still, Parker was determined and driven to grow her fledgling company in her parents’ basement, while maintaining a full-time job.
“For many years, I wanted to start my own business,” she explains. “I was a multi-tasker, always driven, and the construction business has always been a passion of mine.” Much of her career was spent handling contract work at various construction management companies including Gilbane Construction Company, Daniel Mann Johnson Mendanhal, an architectural engineering firm, and McKissack and McKissack, the oldest women- and minority-owned professional design and construction firm in the United States.
It was a feast or famine kind of existence, working on a contractual basis, and one project ended, she was referred to another. “It had its challenges, and days where it upset me, or times that it was depressing. But [those challenges] made me even hungrier.”
In 2006, the last company where she worked provided the impetus for her to officially launch out on her own. At the time, she was working full-time as the vice president of program management at Capitol Commercial Real Estate Advisory Group, a minority-owned business group that did all federal contracting. “I was denied a promotion, although I brought in over 70% of the contracts, and was told by my supervisor that it was a man’s industry. I walked away from the table after my performance review, and cried.” After going home, and having a heart-to-heart with her father, Parker arrived the next day with two pieces of paper: one was her resignation letter, and the other was her offer to be a consultant for the firm. “I told them that I would finish the contracts I had started. But once those contracts were through, I would compete with them for future contracts with future customers.” They were amenable to both.
Parker launched the Elocen (Necole spelled backwards) Group in 2007 on a part-time basis out of her parents basement. “I made a decision to move in with my parents while my son was in high school because that family support system was important, and they continue to be a support system to me today.”
“Walking away from a full-time job to work as a consultant, not knowing where the next dollar would come from was hard. So I obtained projects by digging into my Rolodex of clients that I had built long-term relationships with over the years.” In 2009, she launched the company full-time.
Parker has grown the Elocen Group into a multi-million dollar Program and Project Management firm that provides consulting services in Construction Management, Interior Design, Information Technology, and Facilities/Logistics support. She credits much of her success to undergoing the process of being designated an 8(a) minority- and woman-owned business, which helped her receive training on training, technical guidance, as well as access to contracts. She leveraged the 8(a) designation – along with her extensive knowledge of the industry – to obtain contracts from government agencies or partnering with private companies. Her clients include the Department of Defense, and The US Food and Drug Administration for a $50-million, five-year contract. The company currently has 58 full-time employees and three part-time employees that work in their Bowie, Maryland headquarters, or in their satellite office in Washington, D.C. They also have an office in Atlanta, which covers contracts they have in the southeast region, specifically in Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia.
“I’d like to grow my company organically, not too fast, or in the wrong way,” she says, listing important lessons she has learned along the way. 1) Don’t bite off more than you can chew, 2) Make sure your employees mirror what your mission and vision are, 3) Always remain authentic, and 4) Never sacrifice your integrity.. Her five to ten-year plan for Elocen include merging or acquiring other companies to grow its reach and expertise. “[Small business owners] don’t have to know everything, as long as they know people who know the things that they don’t.”
Although her son is now grown, and has a child of his own (she has also remarried to her post-college sweetheart), she never forgot the struggles of being a 21-year-old single mom going through college. So in December 2013 she launched the Necole Parker Foundation to assist teen mothers and African-American males raised in single parent households. The Foundation focuses on promoting life-skills trainings, implementing workforce development programs and encouraging educational advancement through scholarships, mentoring, and hands-on training for the moms.
The Foundation is currently under the auspices of United Charities, while it undergoes the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization with the IRS, which she hopes will be completed by summer 2015. In the meantime Parker is planning three events: A summer event with the youth in her community, scholarships for back-to-school supplies, and a toy drive for Christmas. “I anticipate funding will be through sponsorships from large corporations, fundraisers, or grant dollars. I didn’t want to bite off more than we can chew.” She plans to reach out to local community colleges to provide mentoring programs and training for teen moms. “Helping the children and youth — that is key.”