When Crenshaw-area native Lawrence Ball was named first runner up in the 2009 Ford Historically Black Colleges and Universities Business Plan Competition, the emotions just welled up inside of him.
“The week before, I got into a car accident and fractured my hip. I was unconscious, and when I woke up the next day, I had surgery. I also had to have enough physical therapy to get me in shape to participate in the competition,” recalled Ball, who is a junior at Howard University majoring in supply chain management, and a graduate of the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies.
The accident prevented him from competing in his own school’s business plan competition, which Ball said officials think he probably would have won based on the information he submitted before the accident.
At the Ford HBCU competition held in Atlanta during the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education conference, what made the contest even more intense for Ball was the fact that the normally mobile young man was presenting his plan from a wheel chair with television cameras glaring in his face, and pain medicine in his system to help make movement bearable.
His situation also caused Ball some mental anxiety that he might not be able to compete with the many graduate students in the event.
Ball credits his faculty advisor with helping to calm him down and restoring his confidence.
All his efforts paid off with a $30,000 win; $10,000 of that will got to the Howard University’s scholarship fund, and the rest will help Ball pay for his senior year.
His winning plan was based on a business that Ball is already operating called AutoCard.
“In the school of business (at Howard), you have to get business cards. (Many people) go to Vista Print and get them done free, and they all look horrible. It’s the same template,” explained Ball, who was part of Food From the Hood during his high school years. In fact, he was the first non-Crenshaw High School student to be part of the company.
He also comes from a family of entrepreneurs–his mother operates a trade printing company on the East Coast; one brother started a contracting company, and a sister is a personal trainer and singer like his mom.
AutoCard offers students a more professional looking card complete with the school’s emblem, Ball said. His company can also ship the item faster, and students can get 100 business cards for as little as $9.
It’s the numbers game that makes AutoCard competitive, said its founder. Another unique aspect of the business, is that Ball is planning for the business fraternity he heads to take over the business and continue it.
That will give the company a constant flow of new people to run it, serve as a fundraising source for the group, and allow Ball the time to finish his education–hopefully at Howard’s business graduate school.