Forever Young

Rod Hill, 30, & John Calhoun, 39

Integrated Management Services
Year Started: 1996
Based in: Jackson, Mississippi
2001 Projections: $10 million

Although Rod Hill and John Calhoun met in the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at Mississippi's Jackson State University in 1990, the two were never your typical frat boys. Instead of going to beer bashes, Hill and Calhoun spent weekends studying engineering design and mathematics.

"Education was my only ticket," says Hill (below, second from left), who in 1995 became the first member of his immediate family to get a college degree. After graduation, he and Calhoun (below, third from left) decided to start their own civil engineering firm. But there was just one problem: Neither of them had much money, and banks wouldn't give them loans. So Hill and Calhoun maxed out their credit cards and founded Integrated Management Services (IMS) in 1996, one of only a handful of minority-owned engineering firms in the country, and the first of its kind in Jackson.

IMS built up an impressive list of clients, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as government agencies throughout Mississippi. This year, IMS projects revenue of $10 million and plans to become a regional firm within five years, with hopes of going national in the next decade.

But even with such heady plans, Hill and Calhoun haven't abandoned their inner-city roots. IMS sponsors an outreach program in Jackson for at-risk 10-to-18-year-olds, teaching them how to succeed both in business and in life. "Looking where I'm at today, I wouldn't trade places with anybody," says Hill. "At the end of the day, you see how your hard work benefits the public." -Peter Kooiman

Entrepreneur: When did you decide to go into business together?
John Calhoun: Rod told me one evening he wanted to be an engineer. That piqued my interest because I knew [from] where I sat [as a city administrator] that there was a need for people of color in that particular position.

Entrepreneur: What challenges did you face early on?
Calhoun: With clients, being a young civil engineer was an obstacle because most of the owners in this industry are older white males. They had to get used to doing business with younger people.

Entrepreneur: What's your advice to other entrepreneurs considering starting a business?
Calhoun: Prepare yourself, and be willing to take risks. Make sure you have a higher power watching over what you do and supporting you.

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This article was originally published in the November 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Forever Young.

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