“From Idea To Expansion: Celebrating The Entrepreneurial Journey,” Economic & Community Development Institute’s (ECDI) 2017 Impact Report, provides an authentic perspective into the ups-and-downs of small business ownership. Each client profiled has a unique story, often rooted in humble beginnings — from an ex-offender turned barbershop owner to a bartender turned restaurant visionary, the report details the progressive business stages each entrepreneur strives to meet on the road to sustainability.
“The entrepreneurial journey is not a straight path,” says Inna Kinney, ECDI’s founder and CEO. “There is not one right way to create a successful business. It’s constructed through [our clients’] hard work, sleepless nights, and unwavering dedication to their craft. We understand the obstacles small business owners face on a daily basis, and are here to help along the way, which is illustrated in the success stories shared in our 2017 Impact Report.”
The Report couples one-of-a-kind entrepreneurial stories with client portraits, showcasing the diverse backgrounds and journeys of ECDI’s client base. Entrepreneurs and their respective businesses are categorized by three stages: idea phase, comprising nascent entrepreneurs; start-up phase, those operating for less than 18 months; and expansion phase, including clients looking to take advantage of resources that help scale their businesses to new heights.
The excerpts below are a few examples of success featured in this year’s Impact Report:
Lisa Gutierrez, Columbus
When Lisa Gutierrez launched Dos Hermanos in 2012, all she had was a food truck and a dream. With just $2,000 in savings and no formal business education, she gave the food truck business a shot. ECDI and the Food Fort helped market her enterprise, sending her to large corporate offices for daily service of her delectable tacos and burritos.
“ECDI made our business instantly credible. They opened a lot of initial doors for us,” she says.
Gutierrez also took advantage of ECDI’s Women’s Business Center, which provided her with small business development training and networking opportunities. Her products, made using authentic Oaxacan-style recipes and crafted with the best local ingredients, became an overnight hit. She quickly secured contracts to serve at Central Ohio’s largest sporting events, including both Ohio State football and Columbus Crew soccer games.
When Gutierrez was given the opportunity to apply for a space in the North Market, Columbus’s popular food destination featuring an assortment of up-and-coming “foodie-preneurs” like herself, she needed capital to expand. ECDI was ready to answer her call yet again.
“I’d never done a build-out or put together a proposal to be in a space,” Gutierrez says. “ECDI helped me fill out the application for the Market, which contributed to my winning presentation.”
After being awarded the space, Gutierrez secured a loan for working capital, allowing her to add the staff members needed for the new location and take full advantage of her opportunity.
The first year operating at the North Market was the most profitable for Dos Hermanos to date, and Gutierrez has never looked back. Now offering event and catering services, she has created a business model so diverse that others within the local food truck scene are feverishly trying to emulate it.
Infamous Barber & Beauty
Sha-Ron Johnson, Cleveland
Sha-ron Johnson, owner of Infamous Barber and Beauty barbershop, had every excuse to fail as an entrepreneur. His mother died when he was six. He never knew his father, and he routinely bounced around group homes and foster care until he was 18. His difficult upbringing eventually caught up with him, and a series of petty crimes led to a period of eight years in-and-out of prison.
While serving time, Johnson took a job as the prison barber, and quickly realized he possessed a knack for cutting hair. Wanting to create a better life for himself and his four girls after serving his time, he moved back home to Cleveland and took a job at Infamous Barber & Beauty.
Johnson was a quick study and climbed the ranks at the barbershop, leading to the opportunity he had been waiting for.
“The previous owner asked if I wanted to buy him out for sole ownership of the business,” he says. “That’s when I came to ECDI. The next thing I knew, I was filling out a loan application.”
Johnson’s criminal background would’ve made him ineligible to receive capital from most traditional banks, but with ECDI financing, he was able to purchase the business quickly, hire additional barbers, and make enhancements to the shop.
Today, his business has created a stable foundation for his family to build upon. With a consistent and positive cash flow, Johnson was able to purchase his own home, giving his daughters the stable upbringing he had missed out on.
“You have to be patient and never give up,” he says. “Persistence. Persistence. Persistence.”
Today, Johnson’s business is steady, and he already has expansion plans in the work as he scouts potential locations for Infamous Barber & Beauty shops in other Ohio cities.
Event 38 Unmanned Systems
Jeff Taylor, Akron
Jeff Taylor is an enterprising and opportunistic Akron native with a flair for innovative technology. As a student at Case Western University, Taylor began experimenting with hardware design for electronics and created autopilot software for drones.
This successful project led to a cutting-edge job as an electrical engineer with SpaceX, Elon Musk’s spacecraft technology company, followed by a role as Director of Research & Development at 3D Robotics, an aerial videography technology company.
During his time at 3D Robotics, Taylor experimented with using a drone to capture aerial photos of a park outside the office. The stunning result was similar to Google Maps, with an impressive zooming capability.
“I could zoom in all the way down to where you can see a guy raking the dirt on a baseball diamond, and I thought, ‘There’s got to be a lot of really useful data here,'” Taylor says.
This insight led to the launch of Event 38 Unmanned Systems. Taylor began by building the drones in his apartment, while simultaneously launching a website. He received his first sale within a week. While his new firm enjoyed slow and steady growth, Taylor didn’t have confidence in the start-up’s ability to procure a traditional loan, given the unusual nature of its inventory. Instead of reaching out to local banks, he turned to ECDI, and was approved for a working capital loan to hire a full-time software developer.
Since that initial investment, Event 38’s drone technology has made massive strides, and Taylor foresees the rollout of groundbreaking capabilities in the near future.
“Instead of [the client] buying a drone and operating it, we’ll operate the drone from here…It’s going to go collect data for a map, [and the] client won’t even need to see it,” he says. “It will come back and transfer data wirelessly over LTE, do the processing and get [the client] information right away.”
In fiscal year 2017, ECDI deployed $5,443,767 to Ohio-based entrepreneurs, leading to the creation of over 300 jobs across the state. Recognized as the third-largest US Small Business Administration intermediary micro-lender in the country, ECDI additionally provided small business support to 2,206 entrepreneurs through their range of services. Over 3,500 hours of training, one-on-one technical assistance, and business-specific resources were administered to 1,559 clients through ECDI, its Women’s Business Center of Ohio (WBC), and the Business Innovation Center (BIC).
Additionally, the Impact Report highlights ECDI’s socially-conscious services, including its Emergency Home Repair Program, which connects subcontractors to low-income senior citizens and special needs individuals in need of minor home repairs to ensure they are able to stay safely and comfortably in their homes. Funded with state and local government dollars, the program generates income for small home repair contracting businesses, while passing no costs along to clients.
The work ECDI performs is not done in silos, Kinney notes. “We rely on our funders, partners, and referral sources who’ve embraced our mission – investing in people to create measurable and enduring social and economic change. Our impact created this past year would not be possible without their support.”
Since 2004, ECDI has assisted Ohio’s entrepreneurs through their one-stop-shop business services model, suited to meet the needs of all entrepreneurs, regardless of what business stage they’re in. From providing capital to entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses, to providing focused, business-specific educational opportunities to enhance entrepreneurial skill sets, ECDI works with their clients to meet their specific needs. Whether you merely have a business idea or are opening up your fifth location, ECDI’s “never say no” approach has allowed over ten thousand entrepreneurs to take advantage of the services they provide. Visit www.ecdi.org today to learn more.