STARK COUNTY, Ohio — Twelve minority-owned businesses in Stark County are taking part in ELITE, a business development program that provides resources and strategies to help them achieve their goals.
The one-year program through the London Stock Exchange Group will culminate in May 2021, with a chance for participants to pitch to investors and to people with access to capital, according to Leonard Stevens, CEO of the Stark County Minority Business Association.
That association has approximately 150 members and is continuing to grow, Stevens said, as it works with both existing businesses and new businesses.
“Of course, with COVID-19, we lost some momentum,” Stevens said. “Well, we're back at it again, and things are going good.”
He said the businesses from the association that are taking part in ELITE will be participating in a “very intense program.” They’re all receiving scholarships from JobsOhio, rather than paying the $25,000 per business ELITE normally costs.
“Once that program is completed, it will be like having an MBA,” Stevens said.
He added, “We're excited that we were chosen to be in the program, and we're expecting the businesses to receive a lot out of it.”
Among the businesses that are participating in ELITE are Invictus Capital Management and The ABCD, Inc.
Will Dent is the CEO of The ABCD, a nonprofit community development corporation that’s been around for more than 45 years.
“Our primary mission is to provide services in community economic development, energy conservation, housing and neighborhood development and transportation,” Dent said.
Dent said he’s been through many training programs, seminars and workshops over the years and described ELITE as “probably one of the most high-powered or sophisticated ones that I have been to.”
Although The ABCD is a nonprofit, Dent said it’s run like a business.
“This [program] has really enabled us to shape our mission, our vision, our strategies, looking at how do we recover, rebound from the whole issue of the virus,” Dent said. “It's been a very, very unique and different type of experience for our agency.”
During the pandemic, Dent said The ABCD has been an essential business, as it transports people to dialysis and to other appointments through Medicaid. He hopes that with the help of the ELITE program, his organization can make its transportation more public-friendly and demand-responsive, similar to rideshare services, since it currently takes people primarily to appointments, funded through Medicaid.
At this point, Dent said most of the organization’s money is generating revenue, rather than depending on grants. He hopes the program will allow the organization to become “more efficient and more effective” so they can “better serve the people.”
Mandwel Patterson, CEO of Invictus Capital Management, said he thinks the program is a great opportunity.
“A lot of times we spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to get business, and I thought it was a great opportunity to actually work on the business and kind of learn from some different people,” Patterson said.
As a financial advisor, Patterson said he spends a lot of time managing people’s emotions rather than their money. His goal is to help people make smart decisions with their money.
In the ELITE program, he’s learning how to assess his own business’s risks, “to see how vulnerable you are to what they call black swan events, kind of like the COVID pandemic, and to kind of get an indication of where your business will stand if and when something like that happens.”
In that case, Patterson said, much like in investing, it’s essential to have a plan. He said he was taught to look at what happened during the recession that began in 2008, “so that if a market decline occurs like it did, then we are able to make this pandemic into an opportunity and not a challenge.”
Prior to getting into financial management, Patterson spent years as an economic development professional. He hopes to use that background and the new skills he’s gaining to help other businesses with their finances.
“I just think it's a great opportunity. The state of Ohio's done a heck of a job reaching out specifically to minority-owned firms, or African American-owned firms and women-owned firms to come into this program and take advantage of the resources that they provide,” Patterson said. “It's really an MBA education that you're receiving.”
Leonard Stevens said he believes this program will help not only the businesses taking part, but Stark County as a whole.
“As these businesses go through this program and as they grow their business, it will allow them to bring on more employees, which will impact the taxes that are paid here in Stark County,” Stevens said.
Stevens also said the Minority Business Association and the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce are working on a mentoring and coaching program for other local businesses to help them get ready to be the next cohort for the ELITE program.
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