Solomon Graham is a rarity in the world of biotechnology: He’s Black and he doesn’t have a Ph.D., instead earning his technical prowess during his time as a Navy corpsman. Despite those challenges, however, he has turned his biotech business, which he launched with a $10,000 second loan on his house, into an enterprise that grosses about $6 million to $8 million annually.
Graham’s pioneering success has earned him several accolades, and another will be added on Oct. 29 when he is inducted into the Montgomery County Business Hall of Fame.
“To be named in the Hall of Fame in the county in which you actually started your growth is gratifying,” said the 70-year-old. “[And] to be looked at by your peers as being someone who is worthy of such recognition is an honor.”
Graham started Quality Biological, his company, in 1983. The Montgomery County-based firm supplies products to bioscience and biotech entities, such as pharmaceutical companies. It is a long way from his father’s farm in one of the more impoverished parts of Georgia, where he grew up and helped raise crops until the age of 17, when he joined the U.S. Navy.
“I attribute all of my success to the grace of God,” the soon-to-retire entrepreneur told the AFRO. He added, “’Lucky’ is something I took out of my vocabulary some time ago and replaced with ‘blessed.’”
Among those blessings, he said, is his wife of 48 years, Dorothy, whom he met on a blind date while he was still a Navy enlisted man.
“That was one of the sources of my success, having a wife that supported my goals and aims,” he said.
For example, his wife supported his decision to take a second loan on the house to get the start-up funds for his business.
A lack of access to capital was just one of the many challenges he faced as a minority businessman in the biotech arena, Graham said.
“Back when I started there probably were no other firms that really were considered minority-owned in that industry,” he said, later adding, “There was always a problem with getting the bank or private capital to take a chance on you.”
But the Navy veteran said he gladly met and conquered those challenges, believing that his hard work would be rewarded.
“You may not get to the top of the heap, but if you do things right you’ll end up somewhere in the pile,” he said.
His modesty notwithstanding, Graham has made it to the top. He has been recognized with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Minority Small Business Award of Excellence and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Minority Business Contractor Award of Excellence.
He will inducted into the Montgomery County Business Hall of Fame Oct. 29, along with John S. Hendricks, executive chairman of Discovery Communications; Carmen Ortiz Larsen, CEO of AQUAS, Inc.; Ray Schoenke, ex-Washington Redskin and former CEO of Schoenke & Associates and James A. Soltesz, president and CEO of SOLTESZ.
The event’s proceeds will benefit scholarship programs at The Universities at Shady Grove with an eye toward grooming the county’s next generation of business leaders.
Similarly, Graham has paid it forward, providing scholarships for college students pursuing studies in science and technology and, also, by sharing his story.
“I just hope my story inspires some young person out there,” he said. “That’s the only reason I tell it.”