Janine Fondon

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President, CEO, UnityFirst.com and African American Newswire Springfield Mass.

For Janine Fondon, “unity” is most aptly described as a triumvirate whose pillars are family, friends and faith. “The key to [my] success is [my] collaboration with others,” the president and CEO of UnityFirst.com insists.

Fondon is quick to attribute the impressive trajectory of her career-from network television to entrepreneurship–to her mentors and to the support of her husband, Tom Fondon. “We are each other’s rock,” she says of him. Judy Jackson, whom Fondon met at the beginning of her career at ABC-TV, and Alicia Evans, whom she met as a young intern at CBS, are also strong supporters. “[Judy Jackson] still encourages me today,” Fondon says. And she still collaborates with Evans.

A heaping measure of collaborative will, adventure and faith enabled the entrepreneur to craft an idea into a communications network with a name to match. “My Web site helps build relationships with people and projects around the world,” Fondon says. That’s the benefit of ‘e-sharing’–partnerships and collaborations can be created in minority communities from Chicago to Washington, D.C., and from New York to Peoria, Ill., she says.

Fondon was unhappy when she saw too few communication and media outlets in the minority community of Springfield, Mass., where she lives. True, there were a couple of Black-owned and -operated newspapers out of Boston available, but “this is a region where there’s not much exchange of information among people of color,” she says. With the availability of financing for ‘dotcoms’ seesawing since the dotcom heyday of the early 90’s, Fondon and her husband took on the funding of their company themselves, with additional financing from TJX Corp. (owner of Marshall’s and TJ Maxx stores). The U.S. Small Business Administration and the Service Corps of Retired Executives, counselors to America’s small businesses, were reluctant to back the venture, assuming it would fail like so many other dotcoms. “We invested in ourselves. We knew we couldn’t rely on banks,” Fondon says.

Ten years and 1.5 million registered users later, the venture is flourishing. That’s the benefit of unity, Fondon says.

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