By Tim Krohn
The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Six business owners in southern Minnesota recently graduated from The Prosperity Initiative, a program intended to promote minority-owned business growth. The initial class went through an intensive two-day training to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and to hear from a variety of speakers about everything from forming a business plan to social media, marketing, finances and hiring. Now the graduates will each get a mentor tailored to their needs who will meet with them monthly for the next six to nine months.
Mary Reeves has been in business even longer. For 15 years she has been majority owner, along with her husband, of the landscaping business Curb Appeal of Southern Minnesota. She has summer employees and keeps busy, but knew she wasn’t keeping up with certain aspects of the business.
Both women are part of six business owners who recently graduated from The Prosperity Initiative, a program intended to promote minority-owned business growth in southern Minnesota. They said the training gave them valuable insights about their strengths and weaknesses and a better understanding of how to move forward and thrive.
“It was an awesome experience,” Uribe said. “It was a shot in the arm.”
The program is offered by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, with a two-year grant from Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development. SMIF partners with others on the program, including small-business development centers and diversity councils.
Pam Bishop, vice president of economic development at SMIF, said minority populations are increasingly the ones starting new business and fueling economic development, particularly in many smaller communities.
“Our demographics are indicating these folks will be populating many of our communities and developing more and more businesses. Given that many of them are new to our region, we felt it would be helpful to connect with them in a more intentional way. So they’re aware of the resources available to them and where to find them.”
The initial class went through an intensive two-day training to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and to hear from a variety of speakers about everything from forming a business plan to social media, marketing, finances and hiring. Now the graduates will each get a mentor tailored to their needs who will meet with them monthly for the next six to nine months.
Reeves, who is Asian-American, said she knew she hadn’t kept up with marketing in the digital age and while she’s been in business a long time, she was never certain she was pricing her services at a proper level to remain prosperous and to grow.
“How do you put a price on two shovels full of sand?” Reeves said. “I found out there are formulas to help do that that I wasn’t familiar with.”
Reeves also got help calculating when and how to begin replacing some of the equipment in the business that is showing its age.
She said the two-day training was intense and exciting. “It’s not one of those things where you sit there and get bored.”
After 15 years she said she still is passionate about her job and learning new things.
“I’m probably the only woman landscaper around who is still out on the machinery and crawling around on my knees at the age of 52.”
Uribe, who grew up speaking English and Spanish, is a licensed drug and alcohol counselor. She had 15 years of experience working in substance abuse assessment and treatment in the Department of Corrections before opening her Stages of Change Center in Mankato in 2011.
She’d like to move from a sole proprietor to adding staff and expanding services to the community.
“I’d love to expand my program, but if you don’t have systems in place, all the passion in the world isn’t going to take you very far.”
She said one of the most profound things she learned was that she shouldn’t be looking for an employee or business partner who is just like her. “I learned that I need to find someone to meet the objectives of the organization that I struggle with, not just someone who is just like me.”
She also learned the business plan she had written when she started was lacking. “I have one, but it was from my old perspective. I’m working on a new one.”
Bishop said their goal in the two-year pilot program is to reach at least 100 minority-owned companies in their 20-county region.
Beyond the small-group training, they’ve had one large conference in Rochester this spring and will hold another in the Mankato area in the fall.
The Prosperity Initiative curriculum is guided by a regional survey of minority-owned business conducted in 2015. Key findings from this survey indicated that only 13 percent of respondents received bank loans and 68 percent felt a lack of support or mentorship in moving their business to the next level.
Common barriers for minority-owned businesses, according to the survey, included high-interest loans, overall lack of financial support, little knowledge of business resources and the lack of general business knowledge. The full report is available on SMIF’s website.
“We know the demographics of our region are shifting,” Tim Penny, president and CEO of SMIF, said in a statement. “As we face an aging population, we know that the success of a diversity of business owners is key to our regional sustainability.”