Leonard Stevens has been an entrepreneur and has owned his own flooring business for over 25 years. When he saw an opportunity to meet with other businesses of like mind to share ideas and explore other opportunities, he decided to get involved with the Stark County Minority Business Association.
Today, he is the CEO of group. The goal is to enhance economic growth, job creation, diversity and inclusion, and quality of life for everyone in Stark County by assisting the development of minority-owned businesses through training, networking and expanding business opportunities.
The association is located at 222 Market Ave. N in downtown Canton. Visit www.starkminoritybusiness.org for more details.
1. How and why did the Stark County Minority Business Association get started?
The Stark County Minority Business Association is a 501(C) (3) organization comprised of newly revitalized and dedicated business leaders, Chamber of Commerce members and others.
We started this organization as a response to a need for personal, one-on-one assistance to minority-owned businesses and individuals seeking to start new minority-owned business.
Initially we formed the association in 2008 as a grassroots, volunteer organization with approximately 11 members. The organization operated as an informational organization designed to educated and inform member organizations on possible bid opportunities and assistance with the process. Membership in the organization allowed members to come together bi-monthly to share information and brainstorm ways to increase revenue and enhance business growth.
While businesses appreciated an outlet and the platform to share their concerns, this was simply not enough to sustain and strengthen their business and thus, the economy. In October 2019, thanks to state Rep. Thomas West, we received funding from the state. This allowed the group to go from a volunteer organization to an organization with a paid staff of four.
This funding had a tremendous impact on our organization and allowed us to increase the services and opportunities we offered to our members.
The impact that we had in helping our businesses secure contracts and receive much needed training, allowed our businesses to hire additional workers which in turn helped to boost the local economy. More jobs mean more workers, more workers means more taxes, and more taxes means a stronger economy. Providing minority businesses with the education and training needed to structure their businesses in a way that allowed them to increase revenue, helped them to position their businesses for larger contracts and greater revenue. As our organization continued to grow, the success of SCMBA had a direct correlation to the strengthening of minority businesses in Stark County. We know that as minority businesses not only survive, but thrive, it strengthens the entire county and state.
Finally, the partnership and collaboration that we formed with the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the support we are currently receiving is invaluable. This support has not only provided workspace with all of its amenities, but it has also given us the prestige in the community, and the visibility of being located in the chamber downtown. The success of this pilot program can be a model for Ohio.
What inspired you to get involved with the association?
Even as a successful entrepreneur, I wanted and needed information on how to grow and sustain my business. I wanted to seek ways to gain access to capital and increase opportunities to secure contracts. I also wanted to surround myself with other businesses that were having success in areas that I wanted to expand in, to either enter into partnership or mentorship relationships.
What are the top three benefits of becoming a member of the association and why?
As more minority businesses come together, we gain synergy just by hearing what others are doing. Often new or smaller organizations will be encouraged after a meeting to not lose hope and to seek the information needed through the association.
- Access to information on contracts and bids.
- Access to information and assistance on procuring certifications.
- Access to grants, loans and mentorship opportunities.
Would you share one or two success stories?
The association was able to collaborate with the Hall of Fame Village to remodel a building that had been purchased by the Hall for offices for the new CEO Mike Crawford. The association partnered with one of our members to help serve as the general contractor for the project. We were able to award seven of our members contracts to complete the renovation. This led to other contracts from the Hall on the DoubleTree by Hilton project downtown.
The association started a mentorship program, Enhancing Resources For All (ERA), where we selected 15 businesses that had been impacted by COVID-19, and gave each business a $5,000 grant to assist their business during the pandemic.
The businesses received training in areas such as business planning, business management, marketing strategy and others. All 15 businesses were then matched up with mentoring businesses who had demonstrated success in their field. The protégé and the mentor were required to meet twice a month over a four-month period. The association is in the process of selecting another 15 businesses to go through the ERA program.
Would you offer three recommendations to consider when starting a small business today?
- Find something that you have a passion for, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
- Find something where there’s a need and then provide a solution to meet that need.
- Develop a business plan, a capability statement, and three years of financial projections. Research the market and know your competition.