ACE held its annual awards celebration on Oct. 25 to honor business owners who have excelled in entrepreneurial leadership.

“These awards reflect a strong commitment to entrepreneurship, community and service by our clients and business associates, and we are delighted to celebrate their many successes from this past year,” says founder and CEO Grace Fricks.

The awards and award winners announced and honored at the event include:

The J. Alton Wingate Economic Partnership Award (the “Wingate Workhorse Award,” which honors an organization that has furthered ACE’s mission through contributions or investments) went to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA). Commissioner Christopher Nunn attended the ceremony and accepted the award on behalf of the DCA team. This organization invested the first public funds in ACE when we were a brand-new organization. Its $50,000 loan fund helped Appalachian small business owners in four rural counties. A decade later, in 2011 the Georgia DCA contracted with ACE and other Georgia Small Business CDFIs to help businesses with access to capital during the recovery road back from recession. Businesses and jobs were created and saved. The contract also put $5 million dollars in 4 CDFIs –that’s $20 million dollars into Georgia CDFIs to use permanently.

J Alton Wingate Award

Courtney I. Smith of PNC Bank and ACE Board Chair and Grace Fricks, president and CEO of ACE, present award to Commissioner Christopher Nunn (center)

Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year went to Freddy Marquez of Crown Bottle Shop. ACE recognizes the passion and determination from Marquez, a Venezuelan immigrant, and his family. He used his savings to open this business and our assistance to grow it. Crown Bottle Shop now has an inventory of over 25,000 bottles, covering 200 brands of liquor, beer and wine from 14 suppliers In addition to this award, Marquez also received a $500 ACE certificate which he can use for professional development, advisory services or equipment for his business.

Small Business Entrepreneur

Courtney I. Smith of PNC Bank and ACE Board Chair and Maria Peck, ACE, present award to Freddy Marquez (center)

The Commercial Entrepreneur of the Year is awarded annually to a business that received a loan over $50,000 with ACE, has exhibited growth or sustainability, and is seen as a standout client because of participation with ACE and within its community. Music Authority’s owners’ Melissa and Andrew Loggins have shown revenues over $500,000 annually, and they also have also shown dedication to improving their business and keeping it sustainable. In 2017, Music Authority was named as one of the best music stores in the world by the National Association of Music Merchants for the third year in a row. This year’s award was garnered for showing growth in adult programming and improvement in online engagement. The Loggins also received a $500 ACE certificate which they can use for professional development, advisory services or equipment.

Commercial Entrepreneur

Courtney I. Smith of PNC Bank and ACE Board Chair and Courtney Lynn, ACE, present award to Andrew & Melissa Loggins (center)

The 2017 ACE Outstanding Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award was presented to Aysha Cooper, founder of SarahCare of Snellville. Cooper became an ACE client in 2010 with a loan for $25,000 to establish a care center for adults with dementia. Since then, she has doubled her space to 6,800 square feet and increased her enrollment capacity from 36 to 64 patients. She also established a new business, “Care Therapy,” an outpatient rehab therapy group, and she purchased an additional van.  When she came to ACE, she had four employees, and now she has 16; she averaged 3 patients per day, and now she averages 43 per day. Her revenues have increased 764 percent.

Outstanding Women Entrepreneur

Courtney I. Smith of PNC Bank and ACE Board Chair and Sandy Headley, ACE Vice President, present award to Aysha Cooper (center)

The Women’s Business Center Client of the Year award went to Eva Jane Bunkley. In the WBC, we strive to build valuable partnerships with qualified consultants who will help guide our business owners through any stage of need. Bunkley, creator of The Makeup Bullet, represents our ideal client. She has engaged the WBC in many ways as a workshop attendee and a Pitch contest participant. She also has taken advantage of multiple referrals to local programs, consultations, and connections that ultimately will result in bigger and brighter opportunities for her.

WBC Client of the Year

Courtney I. Smith of PNC Bank and ACE Board Chair and Karen Malaga, ACE WBC,  present award to Eva Jane Bunkley (center)

The Women’s Business Center (WBC) Partner of the Year Award goes to an organization that promotes entrepreneurship, business development resources and community economic development in the state of Georgia. This year’s honor was presented to Carolina Ramon, Director of the Office of Minority Business Development at the University of Georgia. Throughout this past year, the WBC has partnered with Ramon, who oversaw the training and curriculum during the Hispanic Entrepreneurship Series and Pitch Competition, and she has referred clients who wanted access to capital while collaborating on consultation services which makes her a great ambassador of the WBC.

WBC Partner of the Year

Courtney I. Smith of PNC Bank and ACE Board Chair and Sandra Font, ACE WBC Director,  present award to Carolina Ramon (center)

The Outstanding Service and Commitment Award was presented to Courtney I. Smith, ACE Board Chair. Since 2015, under his leadership, ACE has helped more than 300 business owners, providing them more than $20.3 million in loan capital. With ACE’s support, these businesses were able to retain or create 2,650 jobs helping families and communities in Georgia. During his term as Chair, our SBA funded Women’s Business Center opened and has provided business education and support to more than 2,600 women so far. Smith began his service to ACE in 2013 as a loan committee member before ACE had professional underwriters, risk managers, systems, and compliance standards.

OS Service & Commitment Courtney Smith

Grace Fricks, president and CEO of ACE, and Sibyl Slade, ACE Board member, present award to Courtney I. Smith of PNC Bank and ACE Board Chair (center)

The Outstanding Service and Dedication award was presented to Mitchelle Johnson in recognition of her 12 years of service as Treasurer as well as Finance and Audit Committee Chair. Thanks in part to her leadership, ACE has grown from a small rural nonprofit organization to a nationally known United States Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).

OS Service & Commitment Mitchelle Johnson

Lynn Thogersen, ACE Board member, and Grace Fricks, president and CEO of ACE, present award to Mitchelle Johnson, ACE Board Treasurer and Finance & Audit Committee Chair (center)



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