Wednesday, May 25, 2005 | Firms owned by women of color are growing at six times the rate of all U.S. firms, according to estimates from the Center for Women’s Business Research, and California is the number one state for firms that are at last 51 percent owned by a woman of color.
Nancy Miller is the president of Del Rey Systems, a 50-employee, San Diego-based technology solutions woman- and minority-owned enterprise that she started 10 years ago in her family room with a fax and a printer.
How did you start the company?
I was in education as a history teacher at Mesa and Palomar Colleges and wanted to figure out how to integrate technology and education. I had a friend who became a widow and she had some technical writing contracts to fulfill so I started out by helping her and one thing led to another.
Where did the name come from?
The company is named for my mother Dolores Reyes who was very proud of her Hispanic heritage.
What does Del Rey do?
We are focused on computer based interactive training programs for the military, and we also do technical manuals such as how to set up a tent for the military as part of establishing a field hospital. For example, we developed Web-based training for the reserves who have used it all over the U.S., and we also did a flip chart manual that they could use in the field.
How did you make the transition from teacher to business?
I felt comfortable in business because my father had been in a wholesale business. I attended some seminars put on by the Small Business Administration, and when I had a question, I found someone who knew the answer. I learned as I went along.
What has your growth rate been?
In 2004, we doubled what we did in 2003, and in 2005, we will double what we did last year. In addition to employees in California, we have people in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Japan.
What are the challenges of having people so dispersed?
Every state has its own regulations and forms which is a real challenge for small business. This has been a real eye-opener for us.
How have you financed your business?
I have established relationships with banks. They may advertise that they’re a bank for small business but they’re really not interested in your business. They want you to guarantee your personal assets. I’ve pledged the equity in my house to get financing even though we have government contracts with guaranteed payments.
Does your husband work in the business?
My husband is a retired Navy officer and engineer, and he works here on occasion doing business development. We’ve been married for 33 years and have two grown-up children and one grandchild.
What’s the most unusual project that you’ve done?
We worked on a project for the U.S. Army called SimMan which is a mannequin that provides training for how to handle medical emergencies. You practice on a dummy which actually has blood pressure and bleeds. We worked with the company that developed the software and wrote the manual.
Do you feel that being a woman has been an obstacle?
Sometimes when I’ve worked with banks, I felt there are assumptions like, “Isn’t there a man we can talk to?”
What advice would you give to someone starting a business?
Hire the best, and meet and talk with as many people as you can. Hang in there. Don’t be scared off by the bigger sharks.
– BARBARA BRY, Voice Editor in Chief
Please contact Barbara Bry directly at