The Institute For Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL), recently recognized volunteers and companies who have helped small business entrepreneurs survive, recover, and thrive at a time when businesses across the nation are experiencing unprecedented financial difficulties and logistical challenges in the wake of the pandemic.

During the last year, the nationwide IFEL volunteer community dedicated a total amount of 6,500 hours with a $1.3 million impact to small businesses across the country.

“These individuals and corporations have answered the call to help small businesses, entrepreneurs and founders, many of whom have faced monumental barriers and difficulties,” said IFEL CEO Jill Johnson. “Their willingness to commit time and provide expertise has served as both a lifeline and springboard and has helped to open doors for those with the potential to grow and prosper.”

IFEL presented awards to companies and individuals whose support and volunteer efforts delivered a major impact to small businesses, entrepreneurs, and founders through its Small Businesses Need Us  (SBNU)  and Women of Color Connecting (WOCCON) initiatives.

SBNU Volunteer of the Year

Volunteer Ken Luft received the Small Businesses Need Us Volunteer of the Year Award and was applauded for dedicating the most volunteer hours in addition to attending the highest number of Small Business Hackathon events. Hackathons are virtual sessions which address the business owner’s specific needs and most pressing issues. Luft assisted business owners with topics such as website review, competitive analysis, and social media review. A retired sales and marketing executive with a 30-year track record of advising small businesses, he has worked for Verizon and the NY Daily News for the last six years.

Upon receiving the award, Luft stated, “I volunteer in other places and train volunteers. The first thing I tell them is if you are not having fun doing this, then don’t. But here at IFEL, it’s fun. For me, there are people out there who might have successful businesses because I helped, which means they are hiring and that people are working. I have the easy part; they are the people taking the risk. Each IFEL volunteer contributes something. On behalf of all those volunteers, I thank you.”

SBNU Corporate Partner of the Year Award

Verizon was recognized with the Small Businesses Need Us Corporate Partner of the Year Award for its contribution of over 550 hours of service to SBNU small business owners in conjunction with Verizon Small Business Digital Ready a free online curriculum designed to give small businesses the tools they need to thrive in today’s digital economy.

“Thank you IFEL for honoring Verizon as your Corporate Partner of the Year,” said Sara Link, director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Verizon. “Through our responsible business plan, Citizen Verizon, we’re committed to 2.5 million volunteer hours by 2025, and on behalf of Verizon, we’d like to thank IFEL for its part in making those hours count.”

WOCCON Volunteer of the Year Award

Gibbons, P.C. Chief Diversity Officer & Corporate Director Robert Johnson was honored with the Volunteer of the Year Award for the Women of Color Connecting initiative. Johnson provided high-impact legal services to founders at critical junctures in their entrepreneurial journeys.

CEO Iya Karade Sokoya of Athletic Arts Academy praised Johnson for business-saving legal assistance when she was in danger of losing revenue due to state-mandated pandemic shutdowns. “I needed ‘Yoda-like’ wisdom for a detrimental business situation, and Robert saved us and still continues to be integral to the business,” Karade Sokoya stated.

Johnson commended IFEL for important diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives for women of color. “When it comes to the lack of access to capital for women of color founders, the statistics are horrendous. IFEL identifies the problem and really gets to the heart of the issue. Just to have the opportunity to work with IFEL and focus on helping is amazing,” Johnson stated.

WOCCON Partner of the Year Award

Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, P.C. received the Partner of the Year Award for Women of Color Connecting and was honored for supporting DEI initiatives by donating over 50 hours of legal guidance for women of color entrepreneurs.

CEO Adrienne Fudge of 40 Dreams Catering needed to find a new location for her growing catering enterprise. The law firm stepped in to develop a lease agreement, putting Fudge at ease during a difficult and stressful transition. “They were very attentive, so very gracious, and very committed to helping me, whether it was the lease agreement or whatever other issue there was,” stated Fudge. Lisa N. Brown accepted the award on behalf of the firm. “Porzio is so humbled by this recognition and to have the opportunity to work with IFEL by serving small business owners and ensuring their success,” Brown said.

Volunteers are needed more than ever and are essential sources of support for small business recovery. Innovative IFEL initiatives including Small Businesses Need Us and the Women of Color Connecting “Success Circles’” program provide the helping hand that business owners and entrepreneurs need, along with a unique way for professionals to engage in skills-based volunteerism, often part of social responsibility and professional development initiatives.

For more information on individual volunteer opportunities and the IFEL Corporate Volunteer Partner Program, visit www.smallbusinessesneedus.org.


About The Institute For Entrepreneurial Leadership

The Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL) is an independent, nonprofit organization that leverages the power of relationship capital to create pathways to success for Black and Latinx founders, entrepreneurs and small business owners. Founded in 2002, IFEL’s mission is to eradicate the systemic barriers that prevent people from historically excluded populations from being able to access the knowledge, networks, and capital required for entrepreneurial success and wealth creation. Learn more at www.weareifel.org.