For 10 years, the University at Buffalo’s program for minority and women entrepreneurs has graduated business owners from different corners of Western New York, arming them with marketing skills, mentoring, and networking opportunities.
But last month, a new version of the Allstate Minority and Women Emerging Entrepreneurs program was launched, focusing on one area – the Kensington-Bailey district.
“The goal is to help transform a business district, not just a business,” said Tom Ulbrich, executive director of the UB School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.
The school hopes to implement the model in other commercial corridors in Western New York.
“Instead of training entrepreneurs spread out in different areas, we’ll plant these programs in different districts and create communities of entrepreneurs supporting each other,” Ulbrich said.
The new pilot program is being funded by a $75,000 grant from the Allstate Foundation, which discounts enrollment costs from $600 to $295 for business owners in the district. And graduates receive a $5,000 grant for facade improvements and to install security cameras through the Bailey Avenue Business Association.
It kicked off March 5 with nine business owners who meet on select Wednesdays through July in the Gerard Place transitional housing center on Bailey Avenue.
“It teaches you everything you need to know to run a successful business,” said Sheila Clency, a program participant and owner of Crowns of Glory hair salon on Bailey Avenue. “And the networking is great; you get insights into a lot of things from different business owners.”
The program’s curriculum spans marketing, merchandising, profit/loss calculations and business plan writing. Participants attend seminars, have networking opportunities and are paired with mentors. One of the program’s main pillars is fostering enduring relations between entrepreneurs in the district to create a support network that will eventually strengthen the entire commercial strip, Ulbrich said.
The program will be ongoing and offered twice a year. The district, which runs from Winspear Avenue to Genesee Street, is dotted with more than 150 businesses.
“We hope to expand it and open it to more businesses; I think it’s really important that the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and the School of Management support inner-city businesses,” Ulbrich said.
With its revived business association, the district is in the midst of a rebirth, and the new program will aid in the strip’s revitalization, said Ibrahim Cisse, president of the Bailey Avenue Business Association and owner of ABCIS Technology Services.
“The training will give a different perspective to business owners, not only how they can improve their businesses with more marketing, but the ongoing mentorships will be very beneficial,” Cisse said.
The new program differs from the original because its offered in the community, not at UB, because small-business owners are often too busy to stray far from their operations.
“We’re going to them instead of asking them to leave their businesses, which is not a helpful thing to do,” Ulbrich said.
Annette Watson, owner of Ann Rhod’s Tailoring on Bailey Avenue, said she has already gleaned a lot from the sessions.
“I’ve been at this for 20 years, but I don’t know everything,” said Watson. “It’s awesome they are offering this. Hopefully they will keep it going.”