ASPIRE Community Capital recently announced a partnership with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont that included a $275,000 grant from Lowe’s Foundation. Beginning in September, ASPIRE will offer two cohorts of its Community Business Academy for Goodwill participants interested in entrepreneurship.
Funding will also allow ASPIRE to launch a Spanish language version of the academy next year. So far, 51 people have graduated through four cohorts.
Bethany Butler participated in a previous cohort and says it was the resource she needed to turn her massage therapy business around. After a friend told her about ASPIRE’s Community Business Academy, a 12-week entrepreneurship training course that focuses on business fundamentals, Butler was accepted into the Fall 2020 cohort.
She still remembers the day she quit her full-time job: May 10, 2019. She spent more than a decade as an accountant but knew it wasn’t something she wanted to do forever. She wanted to be an entrepreneur, with dreams of opening her own massage studio. It would be a way to honor the memory of her late husband, Philbert, who died in 2014 at the age of 45.
“He had heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety. And my husband was a recovering alcoholic. So for me, it was like, what can I do to honor his memory and the struggle of what he went through?” Butler, 51, recalled about her husband of 19 years. “It was through massage that we created so many intimate moments and something that we enjoyed together.”
More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, with small businesses accounting for roughly two-thirds of new jobs in the U.S. each year.
Butler officially launched Opulence Men’s Massage & Wellness last summer after a slow process to receive her massage therapy license. Her then-mobile business was an opportunity to help men focus on a moment of self-care because, from her perspective, not enough men take the time to invest in their health. While she understood accounting, Butler knew less about running a business.
She wasn’t booking appointments consistently, so she picked up a part-time accounting gig and contract work as a massage therapist while she pushed through growing pains. As an introvert, Butler found marketing her business, particularly through social media, to be out of her comfort zone.
“I come from a generation where it’s a handshake. You meet people through word-of-mouth,” she said. “Marketing now is totally new for me, and it scared me to death.”
Once in the program, she saw that she wasn’t the only business owner facing similar challenges. Her mentor made it less intimidating by introducing relevant social media apps and walking her through concepts such as the steps of a sales funnel. Mentorship is one of the essential resources for successful small businesses, yet Black entrepreneurs are less likely to have access to mentorship networks, according to The State of Black-owned Small Businesses in America report.
Since graduating earlier this year, Butler says she still draws on her experience in the program when it comes to areas like marketing and networking.
Corporations and other funders have pledged dollars and resources over the past year geared toward not only supporting minority-owned small businesses but also the entrepreneurial programs providing support to help those businesses survive and thrive.
“I think with the pandemic and Black Lives Matter that it created a situation where [funders are] looking at ways to support, specifically, Black-led organizations because we have access to the community of the people that they want to be able to help,” said Tya Bolton, ASPIRE’s director of operations. “The organizations also have the responsibility of reporting back the greater impact those funds have.”
The Community Business Academy is the first of a three-step program series. Participants in the Business Accelerator Services program receive one-on-one coaching and additional support services under a 90-day action plan. The Access to Capital program connects those who completed both previous programs to funding resources, including ASPIRE’s micro-loan fund that provides loans ranging from $2,500 to $10,000.
“We realized that a key component of really building and developing the Black, small-business ecosystem in Charlotte is really about being a source, as well as a resource, for access to capital,” ASPIRE CEO Manuel Campbell told QCity Metro earlier this year.
To learn more about enrolling in the entrepreneurship program, visit aspirecommunitycapital.org.