Member Meet-Up is a new series from VisionTech to showcase our members and why they chose to become angel investors with our group.
Larry Williams Jr. has an eye for opportunities. While earning a degree in physical therapy from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, he determined that working as a security guard was a great way to earn a living and attend classes full-time.
In April 2013, Williams was horrified to learn that two young terrorists with homemade bombs had easily infiltrated crowds attending the Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding hundreds. Had there been better security, he reasoned, this tragedy could have been avoided.
“At that point I decided to start my own security company, Rowley Security Firm, in Indianapolis with family members,” he explains. “We provide armed guards, typically off-duty cops, for sporting events, festivals, construction sites, manufacturing operations, office buildings, and churches throughout the state of Indiana. We also install security systems.”
In 2015, a study revealed that only two percent of Indiana’s businesses were Black-owned. Seeing an opportunity to advocate for minority-owned businesses in his home state, Williams founded the Indy Black Chamber that same year with the goal of bringing economic empowerment and the independence that comes with it to Indianapolis’ Black community.
Williams, who serves as president and chairman of the Indy Black Chamber, is committed to developing more entrepreneurs within the Black community. In addition to mentoring, educational seminars and networking events, he spearheaded the creation of a two-story co-working space downtown next to City Market in June 2020. The co-working space provides young companies with access to affordable conference rooms, high-speed internet, printing, and fax services—things that can make or break a new entrepreneur and their dreams.
He also helped establish a Food Incubator in City Market to encourage and lift up all types of food entrepreneurs. “We provide kitchen space to help caterers and food trucks get out of their homes, we help restaurants with rent and equipment, and we help those who want to break into the retail food business. We also welcome carts to sell crafts like beads and tee shirts.”
Williams’ hustle is catching. Within five years, he has successfully grown the Indy Black Chamber to nearly 400 members. Corporations, appreciating his enthusiasm and results, have enlisted his help with initiatives to promote and grow entrepreneurship within the Black community. For example, he worked with Comcast to award $2,500 grants to 18 Black-owned businesses. More recently, Cummins engaged Williams to promote and administer nearly $1 million in grants to minority businesses. Some 892 applied and 88 were awarded grants worth more than $600,000.
This “seed capital” is critical to building a more vibrant and diverse business base in Indianapolis and across the state, Williams says. “The Black community hasn’t had angel investors to turn to start companies so the Indy Black Chamber has been serving in that role. We want to see people and businesses grow so we invest.”
Working with large corporations have given Williams a deep appreciation for accountability and return on investment. Given the Indy Black Chamber encourages members to be lifelong learners, he saw an opportunity to learn more about investing by joining VisionTech Angels in early 2021.
“VisionTech Angels invests on a much larger scale than we do at the Indy Black Chamber and I want to understand the screening process, evaluating pitches and due diligence. As a new member, I plan to get involved but first I’m here to observe. I want to see how it goes and how it flows,” he says.
At the Indy Black Chamber, Williams invests in all kinds of small businesses, but mainly in the service sector. Now, as a Vision Angel, he admits he’s not looking at specific industries; he prefers to consider the individual entrepreneur. “I listen to the person. If he or she knows their industry, they can make money. I’m sold based on that.”
Among the many assets he brings to VisionTech is a growing statewide network of Black-owned business connections. He has helped establish Black chambers in Evansville, Marion and Muncie, and is working on another in South Bend. He also has his eye on launching a statewide Indiana Black Chamber of Commerce.
Ultimately, Williams would like to put more Black entrepreneurs in front of VisionTech Angels and other Indiana-based investing groups. “We need to recruit more people with deeper pockets to the Black community. Together, we can create bigger opportunities if we invest as a group.”