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Like many immigrants, Baba Garba saw the U.S. as the land of opportunity when he came here from Gabon in 1993. Seven years later, he created opportunities of his own with Infonit L.L.C.
Launched in December 2000, the full-service Niles, Michigan-based technology solutions firm provides broadband installation and information technology consulting services. Services include installing high-speed digital subscriber (DSL) and T1 lines, managed security, Internet protocol (IP), and dial-up services. With seven employees, 41 IT consultants, and a client list that includes Wal-Mart, Chase Manhattan Bank in Ohio, and MasterCard, 2002 revenues totaled $900,000 with projections of more than $1 million for 2003.
While Garba is positive about his firm’s outlook, his success came with its share of sacrifices. When deciding to launch the business, Garba and his wife, Gloria, faced startup costs totaling more than $250,000. To cover those costs, the couple took out a second mortgage on their home for $60,000, charged more than $30,000 on credit cards, and used accumulated savings of some $160,000. The funds went toward creating the network infrastructure, personnel, hardware and software, advertising, and building upgrades.
The couple also had to do their homework. Garba had a background in technology but needed to understand the market. He poured over data from the Census Bureau to evaluate why remote areas could not get high-speed Internet access. Based on his findings, Garba concluded that the infrastructure for high-speed Internet was not available for smaller cities despite the need for the service. “I used my expertise to build what was needed for remote areas,” he says.
The first couple of years were not easy, especially when more funds were needed to build up the business. Garba approached the financial institutions for capital. “I started my company during a time when many dotcoms were experiencing periods of boom followed by failure,” Garba recalls. “Although Infonit was not a dotcom, banks falsely identified it as such.”
To help pay the bills, Gloria says she and her husband relied on relatives. “Our friends and family came to the rescue.” They received more than $50,000. In addition, Gloria continues to work full time as an accountant and was able to provide funds when needed. The turning point came through word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied clients. Infonit’s balance sheets continued to show profitability, and banks were now willing to offer financing. Today, Infonit supports clients in retail, energy, government, manufacturing, and transportation.
Looking ahead, Baba hopes to go global and expand to his homeland of Gabon. Gloria says the company won’t lose sight of its original mission. “Regardless of Infonit’s expansion, it is vital that we continue to provide superior customer service to our clients.” She continues, “Our main focus has always been customer service and we will continue to keep that in the forefront as the firm continues to grow.”
Infonit L.L.C.; 210 East Main St., 3rd floor, Niles, Michigan 49120; 269-687-8180; www.infonit.com