Untraditional Start-A-Thon Boosts Minority Entrepreneurship In Iowa

 Glennda Bivens saw the change.
When Bivens, a community development specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, partnered with the Small Business Development Center and the Iowa Black Business Coalition to create the Untraditional Start-A-Thon, the goal was to increase minority and female entrepreneurship, an area Iowa has struggled with.
When the event was over, Bivens had no doubt that it had been a success. The attitudes of participants told her so.
“It almost became a difference between can-do and will-do,” Bivens said. “Can I? Yes. Will I? Yes, with support from various entities.”
While Iowa has received plenty of buzz recently for its hospitable business climate, not all are benefiting. Iowa ranks 51st nationally in entrepreneurship for women and minorities, behind even Puerto Rico.
“Des Moines is known for being one of the best places to start a small business,” Bivens said, “but if you do the research, you see that may be true for some. But for women, minority and low-income citizens, that’s not their reality.”
The Start-A-Thon was designed to bring resources together to show that the underserved, too, can start their own businesses. Bivens said that giving them culturally relevant learning opportunities is very important.
“We want to enhance their financial education, their business education and help them meet their goals with a direct connection through the Business Development Center,” she said. “There is a disconnect about understanding the system, the way you apply (for assistance), and a lack of understanding of technology.
“We want to have a culturally relevant perspective. If Iowa is known for beef and pork, talking about fish is not relevant. We looked at it from the same way, ‘How do we make it relevant.’”
The 16 attendees, who came out despite winter weather which delayed the event by one day, pushing it to a Sunday, learned from lawyers, professors and award-winning entrepreneurial leaders who shared their knowledge on business-building. The day’s events were also preserved to share online for those who had scheduling conflicts.
Those in attendance also completed their business model canvas and talked through creating an LLC or corporation for their respective businesses. In addition, an online learning community was established for participants to learn about creating a visual identity, marketing analytics, and more.
Iowa Black Business Coalition president Ini Augustine said the Start-A-Thon filled a key need.
“People are ready, hungry, and are willing to do what it takes to become business owners,” Augustine said. “I feel like we are responding to what people want.”
As Bivens noted, tangible results emerged from the day. She said that 13 potential business owners trademarked their businesses with the state of Iowa, and seven businesses started.
“I think the biggest thing was, they understand that ISU Extension and Outreach is in all counties, and they can meet with them wherever they are, to fill in the gaps with things like financial education,” Bivens said. “The question shifted from ‘Can I do it?’ to ‘OK, I’ve been a part of it. What can I do to enhance it?’”

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