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Trio use experience to start consultancy: State-government veterans met while at FSSA

August 29, 2005

Three veterans of state government have pooled their years of management experience to launch the women-owned business consultancy Engaging Solutions LLC.

Led by Venita Moore and Debra Simmons Wilson, the company set up shop in the Indiana Black Expo building on North Meridian Street this spring to provide fiscal management, strategic planning, outreach, training and economic development services.

They and part-time principal Tammy Butler Robinson say the firm's focus on serving government agencies, not-forprofits and faith-based organizations fits their backgrounds.

"We have proven success in running billion-dollar organizations," Moore said. "I think very few other organizations can say they have those traits that we bring."

The three met while working at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, the state's largest governmental agency. FSSA employs 10,000 people and has an annual operating budget of about $6 billion, nearly a third of the entire state budget.

Moore served three Democrat governors as interim secretary and deputy secretary at FSSA and was responsible for operations and performance management. She left the agency, which has been described as "broken" by new FSSA director Mitch Roob, during the change in state administration early this year.

FSSA had problems, Moore admitted, but she said the problems should not overshadow the agency's accomplishments.

"As with any administration, mistakes will be made," she said. "We believe that the few mistakes that were made were overshadowed by the great things we did."

She cited the transition from institution-based care to community-based care as an example. Moore also helped redesign FSSA's contract-management system and its program-evaluation network.

With that and a bit of entrepreneurial experience operating a small public accounting practice under her belt, Moore thought the time might be right to start a full-time business.

Simmons Wilson, 50, left FSSA in 2001 to take a job as vice president of operations at St. Louis engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas, drawing on prior experience at the Indiana Department of Transportation. She returned in 2003 and hung her own shingle as an independent consultant.

They launched Engaging Solutions with the help of Butler Robinson, 31, who splits her time as the fiscal analyst for Democrat members of the Indiana House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.

"We know a lot of people; we've been around the block, so to speak," Simmons Wilson said. "We felt we had a good knowledge base and a lot of contacts in the community."

Their clientele so far includes Indiana Black Expo, Indiana Minority Health Coalition and Mount Paran Baptist Church. Engaging Solutions is providing accounting services for Black Expo and grant-writing and strategic planning oversight for the health coalition. The church hired the company to be project manager for its housing development at 42nd Street and Franklin Road.

The church work stems from the partners' devotion to their religion. Butler Robinson is an assistant pastor at the House of God Church in Fort Wayne.

Black Expo President Joyce Rogers said she has known the three for many years and is confident they will succeed.

"To see those three talents come together is really, really key," Rogers said. "They just happen to be women and they just happen to be black women. But first and foremost, they are very capable of doing a good job. People will recognize that very quickly."

Jesse Moore, Purdue University's manager for supplier diversity development and former director of the Indianapolis Black Chamber of Commerce, knows Moore and Simmons Wilson well. He thinks they can be successful, although there could be challenges.

"The main thing is going to be getting that opportunity," he said. "But once they do have that opportunity, they'll do an excellent job. I think they're going to be fine."

Some of those chances could arise from government and corporate contracts. The partners certified Engaging Solutions as a minority- and female-owned business with city, state and federal governments. That designation allows companies to compete for government contracts that devote a certain percentage of work to minority businesses.

Engaging Solutions also is certified with the Indiana Business Development Council-formerly the Indiana Regional Minority Supplier Development Council-to contract with corporations such as Eli Lilly and Co.

The women set a revenue goal of $150,000-$250,000 for their first six months of operation and said they are well on their way to exceeding that expectation. A large contract they are negotiating now could take the company further than their "wildest dreams," they said.

The partners funded the startup privately and brought an equal commitment to the firm. To lend guidance, they recruited four advisors to act as mentors, including Black Expo's Rogers and Vop Osili, president of local architectural firm A2so4.

They said it is unusual for a business their size to offer such an array of consulting services. The three are unaware of other minority-based firms-let alone small businesses-that can match their offerings. Larger accounting firms are their primary competitors, the women said.

While at FSSA, Simmons Wilson served as the director of the Division of Disability, Aging and Rehabilitative Services, and led the effort to close state developmental centers such as Muskatatuck State Hospital in Jennings County.

Butler Robinson served as the FSSA's deputy director of claims management, a job that made her responsible for 125,000 contracts and more than $300 million in claims annually. She later was promoted to director of data management for the Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning. Medicaid is the largest program of those administered by FSSA, with expenses representing roughly 75 percent of the agency's budget.

Their first several months have been busy-the partners secured office space in April and hosted a launch party July 21. They incorporated the company Jan. 17, appropriately enough, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
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