Kamala Colbert has her eyes on the horizon, always looking for new experiences and new ways to look at the world. Colbert’s path to entrepreneurship was long and complex, but it was this attitude that helped her succeed.
Colbert grew up in Akron, Ohio, but moved to California as teenager.
“That experience opened up my eyes,” she says. “I realized there is larger world than Ohio – with many opportunities.” That eventually helped push her to pursue starting her own business.
After her California adventure, Colbert returned to Akron and graduated from Firestone High School. She then attended Hondros Community College where she took courses in real estate. Still not quite sure what she wanted to do, Colbert also studied to be a medical assistant at the American Technical College. Her life went in a sudden challenging direction when she was incarcerated, spending six years in prison. But Colbert used this unfortunate turn of events to her advantage, writing, directing and acting in plays while she was incarcerated. Shortly after her release, she enrolled in ONOW, a training program specifically for women hoping to work in the construction field. The program sparked her interest in construction and painting and planted the idea that would eventually become her business.
Colbert found that entering the workforce after her incarceration was harder than she had expected, and that “it was almost impossible to find steady work after being incarcerated.” After a few years of scraping by with odd jobs, Colbert knew it was time to go out on her own, and in 2006 she started Colbert Painting.
“At the beginning it was just me, a bucket of paint, and a paint brush,” she says.
Colbert relied on her community to get her business off the ground, painting houses in her neighborhood on the East side of Columbus. She was able to leverage her community connections to be paid in advance for many of these jobs, allowing her to grow her business without having to invest large amounts of capital up front. Emboldened by her early success, Colbert began going for bigger commercial projects and landed contracts with Columbus City Schools and The Ohio State University.
By 2015, Colbert’s company had begun to plateau, and it became clear that she could not grow her business working all on her own. To get bigger projects she would have to grow her team and secure more capital to pay for supplies. This issue became urgent when she got the opportunity to bid on a $70,000 project with the Hilliard Library.
To complete the project she would have to hire a full-time employee and raise the capital to buy the necessary supplies, something she could not do on her own. Through friends and community leaders she heard about ECDI’s Capital for Construction Program that addresses the financing gap minority-owned construction subcontractors face when submitting bids for large-scale construction contracts. She secured a loan and with ECDI’s support, she was able to win the project. Colbert has since hired a full-time employee and is hoping to hire more in the future.
In addition to enrolling in ECDI’s Capital for Construction Program, Colbert became a member of ECDI’s Women’s Business Center and participated in this year’s Project Reimagine Program, a female-focused training series that has been proven to help existing businesses grow and reach new heights.
The Project Reimagine group became a close-knit community for Colbert, and helped keep her on track with her business.
“Project Reimagine was a great way to network with other motivated female entrepreneurs, and the training helped me focus on the more technical side of running my business,” she says.
Through the program she met Denise Ransom, the owner of Elite National Building Services, LLC and they have begun to work together on construction-related projects, allowing both to grow their businesses.
Colbert recently applied for and received a community-backed Kiva loan. Kiva provides zero interest loans that are funded by individuals within the business’ network, and Colbert’s community came through funding her loan within 24 hours. She hopes the use the loan to buy new equipment and to grow her team even more.
Colbert continues to do small projects in the community, and always looking for new opportunities, is working to secure her general contracting license so that she can expand her business past just painting. Also, Colbert still writes her own plays and performs as a member of Urban Arts Theater Company.
Colbert Painting is always looking for more projects and big and small. To inquire about their services, email Kamala at [email protected]. If you would like to learn more about the Capital for Construction Program, please email Jesse Mark at [email protected].
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.