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Eli Smith: Proud and Successful Black Business Owner

 In Blog, Success Profiles

An advocate for diversity in business, Eli Smith shares his success secrets and his insights about systematic racism in the field. 


Eli Smith is an award winning contractor who built two multi-awarded construction companies, namely, E Smith Constructions and SGTR.

He is an alumnus of Babson College and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

Smith also gives back to the community by sitting as part of the Board of the Girls & Boys Clubs of Syracuse, The Empire State of the Association of Builders and Contractors and The Urban Business Association of Syracuse. 

With all of these, he was recently awarded with the Carey Gabay Excellence and Innovation Award from Governor Cuomo in 2016. 


Smith started his company after being inspired by one of Oprah Winfrey’s guests who started picking up trucks as a business and then grew into having $180 million a year in three different countries. 

“And that’s just a high school guy, just like I am. And I was like, what? That’s not— I could do that. Same as I think, I could go on somewhere.”

He started his company cleaning out other people’s attics which he called sold on trashing. A year and a half later, he got his first demolition job from a residential customer and his business started growing. 

“We just continued to scale and just continue to grow the company from there. But it was just from the grassroots. It just started very organically. And that’s working.”

Then, even with just a high school diploma, Smith continues to learn how to be a developer. He just asked what the process was and continued doing it. 

This is also what he did when he transitioned in the federal arena. He continued reading about the marketplace and asked questions to project managers and owners of some of the most successful companies in the field.

With this, he learned to wait until he built a great infrastructure and foundation in place before pursuing federal jobs. Then, he got an 8a certification and in his first year, he got a joint venture and was selected to do a $9 million worth of five-year IDIQ contract. 


Smith’s father who was a Black Panther heavily influenced him in his viewpoint about racism which he then used in his daily life and even in his own business. 

“He used to always educate me and hit me with these mind boggling questions. Like, just because somebody served time for doing something that they think isn’t right, does not mean that person is bad. And everybody deserves a second chance or third chance.”

When he built his first company, his team was filled with black people who are mostly hired on the spot when they come to apply for work. 


“They put out quality work and I’m just playing the coach. And I just put them in positions to succeed. But I believe that a good leader hires from within the communities in which they serve.”

Currently, his company is not just composed of people in the country because he has people from Africa, Cuba, India, and China who are helping him to do all of the work needed. 

“Everyone is saying this, and this is what, and that some, they come in with a chip on their shoulders. Right. Because somebody else might tell them, no, we’re not going to hire you based on how you look. So everybody has a chip on their shoulder to do well and win.”

However, even with this, he knew that there are still problems about racism so Smith calls for people against this saying:

“Social justice with social change has to come with economic change. You need one for the other. You can’t do, you can’t have social change without economic change, because we need to be empowered. We need to have resources to change things right now.”


Smith’s advice for companies is to work as a team because effort is not just created by one person. With this, you should also build great relationships. 

In Smith’s case, he has a great relationship with their insurance company who introduced them to his mentor who helped achieve his company’s success.

He thinks that relationships in business is the only skill that will help you build yourself and your company’s service in terms of communicating effectively with people. It is key in your company’s growth. 

“And that’s what you want. You want to have— Those relationships are really how you grow your company… We will go across the street or drive five miles to spend money with someone who we have a relationship with.”


If you want to watch the full video of the interview with Eli Smith as he shares his success secrets and his insights about systematic racism in the field, then be sure to click the links below:

Black Proud and Successful Business Owner Eli Smith shares his journey to millions- Eric Coffie

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