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Best & Brightest: Starting a Business Before Graduation, Not After

With his e-newsletter, the Networking Loop, Christopher Pollock, a third-year business student at Bowie State University, is taking the oft-repeated saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” to the Internet and becoming the essential link that helps small business owners connect.

Each week Pollock sends subscribers a list of future breakfast, lunch and dinner events where small business owners and entrepreneurs can find out about opportunities to market their products and services, and informal settings in which they can meet potential partners and clients.

He profiles local business owners and provides a venue for them to advertise services, special offers and events. Pollock says that he will soon offer event planning and email promotion services.

Since its August launch, Pollock has signed up 2,000 subscribers, largely among the robust small business community of Prince George’s County, Md. He projects that number to grow to 3,000 by year-end.

Pollock says it can be difficult for entrepreneurs and small business owners to learn about the region’s professional networking events. His subscribers want this information, and all indicators point toward taking the concept, a retooled idea discarded from a friend and small business owner, to the market now.

“This is the second dot-com boom, and the dollars right now are in advertising,” the 20-year-old said in between shaking hands and chatting up business professionals during a recent networking event sponsered by the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce. 

Taking clues from his subscribers, Pollock plans to expand the Networking Loop into neighboring Washington, D.C., and Virginia. “I want all 50 states,” he says. He knows that the venture will take work and says he is ready for the challenge.

“You have to have a level head, think of all the pitfalls and say, ‘What’s my Plan B?’” Pollock says.

When he is not planning his next newsletter, Pollock is studying business and entrepreneurship at Bowie State University, the oldest historically Black university in Maryland. About 20 percent of its 5,500 students are majoring in the discipline, says Richard Lowery, who has been teaching business courses at Bowie State for nearly 30 years. Lowery says a business based on online advertising revenue is a good bet.

“The Internet is really good for bringing people together that wouldn’t know about each other,” said Lowery, who also is the faculty sponsor for Bowie State’s Entrepreneur Club.   

During his freshman year, Pollock participated in Entrepreneur Club activities, which include off-campus tours of local businesses and on-campus lectures from entrepreneurs. 

He met students with similar goals. Noble Okeke, also a junior, is helping Pollock launch the Networking Loop while nursing an equally intense entrepreneurial spirit. 

“I am looking forward to starting my own advertising or staffing company before I graduate,” Okeke says.

Earlier this year, Pollock and Okeke sought out other resources to feed their appetite for entrepreneurship. The two made a cold call to the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce with the goal of joining and offering pre-paid legal services to the 876-member professional organization.

“They were so impressed with our presentation that they introduced us to Dr. Dula,” Okeke says. James A. Dula, the president and CEO of the Chamber, had another idea for the young men.

“They were looking for interns—and we just walked in the door,” Okeke says. Pollock, Okeke and a half dozen other students spent spring semester interning at the Chamber.

Upon their suggestion, Dula has organized a Junior Chamber of Commerce with chapters at Bowie State University, Prince George’s Community College and Capitol College, an independent college in Maryland that focuses on engineering, computer science, information technology and business disciplines, as well as some high schools in the county.

“It is a great opportunity for the Chamber to provide mentoring to students,” Dula says. In addition to Pollock, about two dozen Junior Chamber members are running a business, Dula says. Pollock, vice president for outreach for the Junior Chamber, recently was named honorary member to the professional Chamber’s board of directors.

Between launching the Networking Loop and developing his own professional network, Pollock admits he is not a “straight A” student. Yet, he is confident that what he learns from instructors at Bowie State, mentors at the Chamber of Commerce and his growing list of professional contacts will lead to his success. 

“I was the one that tended to follow a different path,” Pollock says, reflecting on how he has measured up to his family’s focus on earning good grades toward the goal of securing a good job. “[But] I love it,” Pollock says. “I get to meet new people every day.”

–Cassie M. Chew

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