by Karen Massie
Most college students wait until they graduate before opening a new business. But Walter Allen was in graduate school when he decided to launch his company. “I was at [University of California] Berkeley getting my master’s degree and quite frankly, I needed some cash,” Allen laughed. It was 1994 and Acumen Building Enterprise was born.
Before Allen, a Navy veteran, received a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering and Project Controls, he was consulting for accounting giant Coopers and Lybrand. “I came to Sacramento about five days a month,” Allen explained. “I was dealing with JP Morgan and other banks who were financing large energy users – gas turbine powerplants for SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District), Carson Ice-Gen Project, Campbell Soup and Proctor & Gamble. I checked on their invoices, progress and work quality.”
Fast forward 25 years and Acumen is now certified as a Small Business in California. The company focuses on systems engineering, infrastructure and technology and has worked for major transit systems in Washington, D.C., New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Portland and San Francisco. Acumen’s largest client is BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), which uses a bill-to-bill changer and a contactless smart card reader developed by Allen’s firm. The smart card system reads and writes to integrated circuits found in smart cards used by passengers to board trains and busses.
No longer a one-man operation, Allen employs 45 people. He said, “Now, I have managers doing finance and engineering. I have more support and the issues are more complex, but I understand challenges small businesses face.”
It’s also why Allen garnered a spot on the Authority’s Business Advisory Council (BAC) representing the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO). “The organization looks out for the interests of African-Americans and other minorities,” Allen explained. “We want to make sure there is a fair distribution of business opportunities for everyone.” Read the full article that appeared in COMTO Small Business Partner Spotlight.