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Bridging The Digital Divide

Bridging The Digital DivideOneof Boston’s most “plugged in” entrepreneurs,Tufts graduate Derek Brooks is building a start-up telecommunicationscompany with a community focus. Boston.

Boston [07.19.04] A veteran of the telecommunications industry, Derek Brooks has helped "wire" cities and towns across the country for companies like Verizon, AT&T and MCI. But the Tufts graduate saw a growing digital divide that left inner city communities unplugged. So he combined his telecommunications knowledge, entrepreneurial spirit and impressive networking skills to form a Boston-based start-up dedicated to addressing the problem.

"Everywhere I go - and I'm everywhere in the city - they are there," Tina Andrews - president of the New England Minority Supplier Council - told reporter Elaine McArdle in a recent Boston Globe profile. "They have met with every single person ... every single company. They're doing it right."

Brooks and his wife Alexis formed the company - Inside Cable Inc - at their kitchen table in 2001. They envisioned a full service telecommunications and consulting company that focused on wiring underprivileged urban neighborhoods.

"In less than three years, the couple has pushed their firm - one of the few African-American owned tel-data infrastructure companies in the Boston market - to the cusp of big things, attracting such heavy hitter supporters as Senator Edward Kennedy, Mayor Thomas Menino, and the TJX companies and landing key contracts with the Democratic National Convention Committee headquarters and the John Kerry for President offices," reported the Globe.

City and business leaders have taken notice of Brooks' work.

"They're giving people the opportunity to compete, to break down barriers," Menino told the Globe. "This is a great role model, and it's a company just a few years old."

They take their role in the community very seriously. Though the money is still tight at the fledgling company, Brooks has already donated a lot of time and resources to minority communities in Boston.

"Last summer, Inside Cable and the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, with others, set up an Internet kiosk at the Dudley Square bus station in Roxbury where people can check e-mail and surf the Net at no charge," reported the Globe. "This spring, the company and a partner donated $10,000 in equipment and labor to the new Timothy Smith Technology Center, a training center at the Roxbury headquarters of the Urban League."

The initiatives, Brooks says, are important for both the company and the community.

"It's a lot of money, especially for a minority business less than three years old," Brooks - who played baseball at Tufts and was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies after graduation - told the Globe. "The community needs it, and it will help us launch a brand."

The couple's high energy and growing list of networking contacts are the other keys to the company's growth.

"Our motto is leverage everything!," Aleix Brooks - who ran her own marketing firm before launching Inside Cable - told the Globe. "That's how any business grows, but especially as a minority and being new."

The couple has formed a series of collaborations between Inside Cable and other local businesses - a strategy that appears to be paying off.

"To land the contract at the DNC headquarters for more than 175 phone and Internet lines, Brooks created a partnership with City Lights, a female owned electrical company, since Inside Cable doesn't yet have the capital for its own workforce," reported the Globe. "In the seven months since, the DNC has asked them to several more upgrades and installations."

The Tufts graduate says the company is just beginning to scratch the surface.

"We know this company can grow exponentially," Brooks told the Globe. "All we need is someone to step forward with the shared capital vision to make this company realize its destiny."

Brooks - who launched his first business in elementary school - already appears to have realized his destiny.

"A fourth grader in Teaneck, New Jersey, [Brooks] launched his first business, a travel agency for kids," reported the newspaper. "Each day at recess he would set up a table in the school hallway, where he displayed brochures for Jamaica, Aruba and other destinations he'd visited with his parents. For 50 cents apiece, Brooks sold his classmates make-believe vacations to the Caribbean, complete with canceled plane tickets from his family's travels. As a bonus, he'd throw in real tickets to a Broadway show (his parents belonged to a theater discount program and couldn't see them all)."

A big hit, the business hinted of things to come.

"The kids would come back to school and say, ‘You know what? My parents really loved that show!'" Brooks told the Globe. "The thing is, I was thinking like an entrepreneur when I was just seven or eight years old. I was essentially doing what I'm doing now."

(Photo by Andrea Fischman courtesy The Boston Globe)

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