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The Inner City 100 Awards leads to a friendship and then a $25 million joint venture

Bo Menkiti, CEO of The Menkiti Group, and Antwanye Ford, CEO of Enlightened, Inc., now share more than an entrepreneurial spirit and Washington D.C. as their company headquarters. In December the District of Columbia Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) selected them to lead the MLK Gateway project development, an initiative aimed at revitalizing the areas around Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and Good Hope Road SE. On the surface the two companies have little in common – The Menkiti Group is an integrated real estate services firm and Enlightened provides IT, cyber security management and management consulting solutions to government agencies – but at the 2014 Inner City 100 awards, the two CEOs quickly bonded and set the stage for broader ventures together.

Networking session at the 2016 Inner City 100 Awards

“Spending time together was great,” says Ford about the Inner City 100 awards, where Ford and Menkiti were both honored as two of the 100 fastest-growing inner city businesses in 2014. “We had a chance to discuss some of the similar challenges we face as business owners – both the shared misery and the shared opportunity,” Ford said.

The two pledged to stay in touch after the IC100 event, and upon returning to the nation’s capital, their relationship continued to evolve.

“I started to learn more about Antwanye’s passion for why he does what he does, and where he wants to take his company. Beyond just running a successful IT business, Antwanye was interested in having an impact and giving back to the community he came [from],” says Menkiti. “Not just an impact in a general sense, but to create an access point for other individuals to have careers and business opportunities that allow them to have success, too,” he said.

It was a sentiment that resonated with Menkiti, whose company is dedicated to hiring local inner city residents and views real estate development through the lens of neighborhood revitalization.

When the city started collecting proposals for the MLK Gateway project, Menkiti and Ford realized this was a chance to team up to have incredible impact in a local community that struggles with poverty. They expected steep competition for the project, and decided to leverage the uniqueness of their companies to stand out among other proposals. “We realized we’d need to think of the project beyond the building envelope,” says Menkiti. “We needed to bring additional energy to the project and help open access to the local community. Antwanye was a perfect match for that.”

The two proposed a 50,500 square foot building, dynamically programmed with office and neighborhood-serving retail. Enlightened’s new headquarters will anchor the space, with Ford having agreed to move 150 of his employees to the building. It will also include a technology incubator, a sit-down restaurant, a coffee shop, a fresh food market in what is currently considered a food desert, and health and wellness facilities. At the intersection of MLK Avenue and Good Hope Road, they envision a pedestrian plaza featuring art from local artists.

MLK Gateway Community Partners (MGPC), the entity Menkiti and Ford created for their joint venture, calls the project, “a catalyst for a thriving, diverse, and economically vibrant commercial corridor. A project that respects and preserves the historic character of Anacostia and that empowers the community to realize a more prosperous, amenitized, and connected future.”

The 100% commercial project is anticipated to bring 224 new job opportunities to the inner city neighborhood, and over $25 million in new tax revenue to the District over the next 15 years. Enlightened’s tech incubator, the first of its kind in Anacostia, will focus on grooming local tech firms for procurement opportunities with the federal government, and Menkiti will open a Real Estate Entrepreneurship Career Academy on site. Menkiti also pledged to redevelop its existing nearby property on Good Hope Road, adding to the corridor’s vibrancy.

“This development delivers on our mission to drive economic development in all corners of the District so every resident can share in our city’s prosperity,” Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Brian Kenner, said in a press release. “I look forward to seeing MLK Gateway reach its full potential and ensuring this historic community has access to the quality retail and jobs they need and deserve,” he said.

Menkiti and Ford’s vision for the MLK Gateway has more intricacies than most developers would be willing to take on, however it’s a project that allows them to take their commitment to the community to a whole new level. “We aren’t here to do what’s convenient,” said Ford. The professional bond sparked in 2014 at the Inner City 100 awards has helped Menkiti and Ford embark on this new venture from common ground. “It’s easier to step out on a limb when you have a climbing partner,” they both agree.

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