Sometimes people need a little push to access business opportunities in Cleveland - and one umbrella consulting venture is providing that motivation for area African-American professional groups.
The Consortium of African-American Organizations (CAAO
) serves as a referral source for entrepreneurial, professional and leadership development across eight member groups communicating with over 30,000 Cleveland black professionals.
Benefits include job referrals and business leads, says executive director William Holdipp. With entrepreneurial development a primary focus, CAAO (pronounced K-O) works with diversity programs at Cleveland State University
, Case Western Reserve University
and the Cleveland Clinic
to foster relationships between high-level officials and business owners. Forging those strong links teaches entrepreneurs how to organize future business meetings with Cleveland's executive class.
"We educate our members to the point where they no longer need us in the middle," Holdipp says. "We want business owners to make such good connections that they're comfortable meeting top executives in the future."
About 20 to 30 local high-ranking officials also volunteer with CAAO. An executive from General Electric recently flew a pair of newbie entrepreneurs by private jet to two company sites, showing them the intricacies of a smoothly running enterprise.
"We want to take local businesses to the next level, and that includes access to these types of opportunities," says Holdipp.
Individuals who donate to CAAO, meanwhile, receive coaching and other perks aimed at new entrepreneurs and folks changing careers. In addition, the consortium connects with young people between the ages of 10 to 19 by teaching them the critical thinking skills needed to make the transition from high school to college.
CAAO's range of activities is designed to narrow an information gap exacerbated by established networks that may not be welcoming to new members, Holdipp says. Under the consortium's umbrella are local chapters of national associations as well as community development corporations. All share a mission to build the African-American community, a goal that for CAAO has evolved over the years to welcome Hispanic and Caucasian members.
Unification is needed now more than ever, considering the economic uncertainties of the forthcoming Trump administration, Holdipp says.
"Cleveland is challenged by segregation; it's a struggle we have to figure out," he says. "It doesn't just mean working with the African-American community, but working with all communities to make things happen."