Electric company wins tech makeover from women’s business center
BY SANDRA GUY Business Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org February 6, 2012 5:02PM
Carol Dougal (right) of Women's Business Development Center, announced Jennifer K. Bias as winner of Technology Makeover competition, which gets more than $100,000 in technology and business services, Tuesday, January 31, 2012. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.
Updated: March 8, 2012 8:02AM
Jennifer Bias hired six new employees and increased revenues by 37 percent in the past year at her electrical and communications contracting company after she earned three business certifications and won a wider array of clients.
The company, Ficek Electric & Communication Systems Inc. in LaSalle employs 27 and made $5 million in revenues in 2011 installing security systems and voice, data, telephony and cabling networks.
Bias will expand the company’s e-commerce and social-media capabilities after she bested three other finalists in the Chicago Women’s Business Development Center’s “Technology Makeover” competition to win $100,000 worth of computer hardware and software, computer server upgrades, executive training, website marketing updates and communications and networking equipment.
“We sell technology, but we’ve been growing so quickly, I had focused on capital investments in tools and our truck fleet and figured the website, social media and marketing campaigns would have to wait,” said Bias, one of six sisters, each of whom who pursued her own career. Bias took over the family business when founder and father Bill Ficek retired eight years ago.
The prizes will enable Ficek Electric to sell products through its website, start marketing on social media networks and gain an internal view of its customers’ purchasing and other activities, she said.
Bias credits the Women’s Business Development Center for guiding her through a two-year-long process of earning state and national women-owned and small-business certifications, which garnered Ficek Electric new contracts with schools, hospitals, state agencies and the U.S. military.
“The Women’s Business Development Center is my mentor,” she said.
Emilia DiMenco, chief operating officer of the Women’s Business Development Center, said Bias clearly and enthusiastically explained how her company would integrate the technology prize and benefit from it. The non-profit Women’s Business Development Center contributed to the prize package, as did CDW, COSi, Constant Contact, Falkor, MarketM, Microsoft, the Microsoft Store and Directions Training Center.
Hedy Ratner, founder and co-president of the Women’s Business Development Center, said this year’s competition required applicants to show at least $1 million in yearly revenue compared with last year’s $500,000 cutoff so that larger, successful companies could vie to build their capacity in the marketplace and compete more effectively.
“We are seeing that businesses need to upgrade and modernize while they still try to rein in expenses,” Ratner said.
Last year’s winner, Linda Toops, founder and president of Clerestory Consulting in Evanston, said she focused on explaining how each item in the $60,000 in technology products and business services awarded in 2010 would help her company.
Bias said she would advise others to go for the gold and be confident, as she has had to be in the male-dominated electrical and communications business.
“Each morning, I have to figure out whether it’s a high-heel or hard-hat day,” she said. “I’m not intimidated. If you’re confident, you can get the job done.”