The Republican, Springfield, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Elizabeth Román shares the stories of Springfield, Mass. business owners who completed a virtual six-week Black business support initiative as part of a collaboration between the Urban League of Springfield and Babson College.
When Everythang Sauce owners India Russell and Lamont Stuckey decided to become vegans they found much of the food to be lacking in flavor.
“Initially we made it to help us be able to eat more vegetables as we transitioned into a vegan, plant-based diet and then it kind of took on a life of its own,” Russell said.
Recently they completed a virtual six-week Black business support initiative as part of a collaboration between the Urban League of Springfield and Babson College.
Shakenna Williams, executive director of global initiatives at Babson’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, said while it is an accelerated program it still features all of the elements necessary for small Black-owned businesses to continue to grow in the Springfield area.
“What the Urban League is trying to do is to empower Black-owned businesses in the greater Springfield community by giving them access to entrepreneur education, mentoring and entries into different networks,” she said.
Henry M. Thomas III, president and CEO of the Urban League of Springfield said the region has seen the small businesses community grow, even during the pandemic.
“People are looking for other options as it relates to their own personal and professional development,” he said. “As a result their minds are expanding and thinking of things that they were a little hesitant to do before.”
While Everythang Sauce was created before the pandemic, it did come from a need that many people can relate to — how to incorporate healthy meals into your diet that actually taste good.
“We were eating out a lot and the stuff we were eating was bland and we just started cooking for ourselves and that’s when we started experimenting with the sauce and using it as a marinade or dip,” Stuckey said.
While the agave-based sauce can help new and experienced vegans add some variety to their meals, there are also many people who use the sauce on chicken, fish and other meat, Stuckey said.
“We did market research and people would say they used it to marinate, to barbeque, to dip. They were putting it on everythang, which is where the name for the sauce came from,” he said.
Along with the sauce they also run a vegan catering company, but with the pandemic shutting down many events last year Russell and Stuckey decided to focus mostly on the sauce which is currently sold online and at farmer’s markets.
They said the entrepreneurial course has helped them network with businesses owners who can help them expand their online presence as well as look at the wholesale market.
“Now that we know our numbers and where we are trying to go with our numbers we are moving in the wholesale direction. We would like to put the sauce in stores and get it on shelves,” Stuckey said.
“We would love to work with restaurants to get them to create a menu item that features the sauce so people can see how to use it in different ways,” Russell added. “We also want to scale our online sales and be better known on social media.”
The course caters to small business owners in a variety of fields.
Making house calls
Dr. Katrina J. Banks, a neurologic physical therapist, launched Neurologic Optimal Wellness Physical Therapy, a mobile neurological clinic, in the summer of 2020.
As a physical therapist for over 12 years Banks said she realized many of her patients did not have an out-patient clinic to go to when they were released from the hospital.
“You see out-patient clinics for sports medicine and people with back injuries or orthopedic injuries, but I bring my expertise to individuals with strokes, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and vestibular balance disorders,” she said.
Some patients find Banks on their own, but many are referred to her by doctors specializing in the conditions she can help with. What makes her clinic especially unique is that she goes directly to patients homes.
“After an initial assessment to discuss their condition as well as their living environment I can determine whether I can help them and what equipment I need to bring with me based on their diagnosis,” she said.
While she is confident in her medical skills and the need for her clinic Banks said the entrepreneurial course helped her develop her business plan and engage with other entrepreneurs.
“It helped me pay more attention to my numbers as far as revenue and what I need to do to expand the business. Right now I’m a solo practitioner, but I’m hoping to expand in the next six months.”
She also got to test out her elevator pitch.
“It helped so that when I’m talking to an investor or a doctor or even a patient I can explain what I do in a clear way,” she said.
Expanding by networking
Denise Silva has owned Posar Photography based in Springfield since 2018 offering everything from wedding and engagement ceremony services to portraits, product shots and head shots.
“You name it we do it. We have also just ventured into the photo booth business. I wanted to offer something more dynamic to my business. I’m already at the events and if it’s something people want I can offer it,” she said.
“I’m good at taking photos and engaging with customers, but I want to strengthen the business side and build my skills as an entrepreneur and the program really helped break that aspect down for me,” she said.
She also used the program as a way to network with other entrepreneurs.
“I’m trying to break into the wedding industry more. Last year was tough for a lot of small businesses, but I’m excited about all of the potential events I will be able to work at in the future. Meeting other community business owners in the program also encourages me to move forward and grow my business,” she said.
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