Steve Patterson The Florida Times-Union
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) UNF’s Swisher Startup for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs will be an eight-week online program about the nuts and bolts of turning an idea into a business.
A Jacksonville-based company that pledged to grow opportunities for Black-owned businesses is sponsoring a University of North Florida program to prepare minority entrepreneurs to follow their dreams.
Cigar industry titan Swisher is underwriting UNF’s Swisher Startup for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs, an eight-week online program about the nuts and bolts of turning an idea into a business.
“This was something that we wanted to make happen,” said Alexandria Deal, manager of diversity, inclusion and transformation at Swisher, which produces some of the country's top-selling cigars lines as well as smokeless and tobacco-free nicotine.
The program will operate through UNF’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation downtown, which will organize the free series of three-hour training sessions each Wednesday between Feb. 10 and March 31.
UNF faculty will handle the interactive sessions, meant to prepare entrepreneurs to handle subjects ranging from assessing product ideas and reaching markets to legal, human-resource and finance issues, finding funding sources and scaling a business for growth. The training’s ninth session concludes with pitch presentations.
“We are very appreciative of this commitment by Swisher that will allow more underrepresented members of our community the opportunity to pursue goals of being their own entrepreneur and business owner,” Richard J. Buttimer, dean of UNF’s Coggin College of Business, said when the program was announced this week.
Swisher provided $50,000 to cover up-front costs to launch the program and envisions it as part of a long-term involvement with the entrepreneurship center.
For Swisher, which has operated in Jacksonville since 1923, the partnership is a step toward fulfilling commitments it made in July to emphasize diversity and inclusion in its business and civic life.
“It’s abundantly clear that our country and corporate America are long overdue in addressing racial inequality,” Swisher President John J. Miller said then in written remarks that pledged the company was “going to do our part.”
The company, which describes itself as a lifestyle brand for adult consumers, outlined a multi-pronged diversity strategy that included creating opportunities for Black-owned businesses; developing a “talent pipeline” with historically Black colleges and universities; and creating sustainable career opportunities for minorities within Swisher.
The company, formerly Swisher International Inc., was already involved with UNF’s entrepreneurship center and became “the catalyst” for the new program, Deal said.
The center began accepting online applications to the training program this month and will continue through Jan. 10.
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