Seven Beloit area entrepreneurs, all by Black or Latino entrepreneurs, will make the case for their businesses on Wednesday at the first-ever Rock County Jumpstart Accelerator Pitch Night.
The event is the culmination of 10 weeks of collaborative training and learning, but in many ways is well over two years in the making. Rock County Jumpstart, a nonprofit organization that supports Black and brown small business owners, started the accelerator program just before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed just about everything.
Jumpstart founder Genia Stevens said she used the time to refine the way the accelerator would operate.
“I decided to use a more creative and collaborative approach to what our accelerator was going to be, allowing the folks who participated to work together,” she said. “To give each other advice using their own experiences as business owners with what they had already done with their businesses. With what they had learned as far as what they had done that had not worked, what they had done that had worked well, and then guiding the conversation from there with guidance on what they could do to move forward … Instead of using the curriculum that I came up with in the beginning, I wanted to integrate their experiences into that curriculum.”
The result is a tight-knit community of business owners who can continue to support each other going forward.
“It is extremely important to me, as a business owner, that these folks continue that relationship forever,” Stevens said. “Oftentimes, as entrepreneurs, especially Black and brown business owners, we function in a silo, or we feel like we’re out there on our own, and that’s what stifles our success. And when you know that you have a group of people who you’ve developed this relationship with, you know you always have someone to reach out to who says, ‘you know what? You can keep going. I’m here for you.’ And that person is also running a business. And you all have those shared experiences and challenges.”
The seven participants include:
“We have a mix of (types of) businesses and that was by design,” Stevens said. “To show our business owners that even though your businesses are different, you share challenges and you can all learn from each other. And that, as you grow, I want you to keep coming back to each other to get advice and to network.”
Stevens said the main thrust of the seven pitches will be to describe what each business owner has learned in the accelerator and where they hope to take their business next, and tell those in the room what support they need to succeed. The best three pitches, as chosen by a panel of judges, will earn small cash prizes, but that’s not the main focus.
“Ultimately, the point of the pitch is for our business owners to learn how to ask for what they need to move their business to the next level,” Stevens said – especially asking for what they need from people outside their normal networks.
“It’s a very different group of people than they’re used to being in the room with,” Stevens said, including local elected officials, economic development leaders and even Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, who will deliver keynote remarks. “You’re going to ask these people for something, and these are people who you’re likely not used to being in the room with. Don’t be afraid or intimidated by being in a room with people who are not like yourself and asking them for something.”
The event will take place Wednesday at the Beloit Public Library, and all available seats have been reserved.