JumpStart gives crucial boost to minority- and women-owned businesses

Angela Flowers admits she knew very little about the resources available for an African-American entrepreneur in Cleveland. For eight years, she struggled to find a financial and interpersonal spark that would electrify her in-school consulting business, which offers children valuable coping skills.

Then she walked into JumpStart Inc., and everything changed.

The Cleveland-based venture development organization linked Flowers to crucial investors and services, helping her build an ecosystem of licensed counselors and nearly quadrupling her revenue.

“I didn’t want to be a small company just in employment for myself,” Flowers says. “I needed a system behind me that gave me more marketing and business sense. JumpStart saw the potential.”

Boosting regional companies – including those founded by women and people of color – has been JumpStart’s mission since its launch in 2004. A report released in June by the nonprofit business accelerator showed exactly how these populations are buoying Northeast Ohio’s economic development prospects. According to the study, minority- and women-led businesses receiving ongoing assistance from JumpStart and its partners created 4,066 jobs in 2018, representing approximately $244 million in income and sustaining an estimated 2,554 households throughout the region. The companies also paid about $26 million in state and local taxes last year.

JumpStart President Cathy Belk says entrepreneurs from local underserved communities are transforming the neighborhoods where they’ve taken root, serving as economic drivers and delivering on one of the nonprofit’s ambitious institutional goals.

“They’ve been growing and generating jobs; that’s what’s so exciting,” Belk says. “I see people like Angela creating business for people in their communities. That’s what this report is for: It’s a story about these entrepreneurs and what they’re able to accomplish.”

It’s all a continuum’ 

JumpStart utilized an economic modeling program called IMPLAN to determine the impact of its investments on the region and state, with additional attention given to entities it supports in New York state. Per the 89-page report, JumpStart-aided businesses in Ohio and New York generated $1 billion in economic impact, which includes direct impact like labor income. “Indirect” impact is taken into consideration as well – for example, an advanced manufacturing firm that creates jobs in the supply chain by ordering locally made parts for its product.

Meanwhile, the impact of women and minorities in Greater Cleveland is supported by programming designed, in part, to uplift those populations living in the city proper, Belk says. Core City is a free, one-on-one advising service aimed at any small-business owner living in the city of Cleveland. Supported by partners including the KeyBank Foundation, Core City provides technical assistance to participating companies, most of which reside outside the technology space. Last year, the program fostered almost $120 million in economic output from women- and minority-owned businesses in Cuyahoga County.

Flowers heard about Core City in 2016 when writing a grant for her firm, Making a Difference Consulting. Program advisers helped her establish company milestones and gain access to capital, while a 12-week business course concentrated on financial projections and collaboration with peer companies.

“The program made me realize who my clientele was; not families so much but school districts,” says Flowers. “It helped me learn about delivering a pitch and marketing myself to investors.”

Taking JumpStart’s advice, the entrepreneur now has contracts with school districts in South Euclid/Lyndhurst, Euclid and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, reaching about 5,000 youths annually and putting on 80 workshops each year through the Cuyahoga County Public Library system.

JumpStart’s Encore Mentoring Program also puts a spotlight on communities of color, a demographic often challenged in finding mentors who understand their unique perspectives and goals. By matching young mentees with experienced volunteers, entrepreneurs shepherded along their business journey have an opportunity to hire their neighbors and upgrade their enterprises.

“It’s important for all business owners to be well-connected not just to JumpStart but to all the people in the community who can be helpful,” Belk says. “Mentors have different skills, and as companies grow, they’re going to need different things. It’s all a continuum.”

A crucial resource

While JumpStart’s culturally diverse charges derive from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds, their ambition and drive to succeed tie them together, says Belk.

Jose Melendez, executive chef of Melendez Catering Services, says many of his fellow Latinos in the food service industry “live in the shadows” when it comes to creating their own business, mostly due to a lack of an entrepreneurial education or knowing what resources to access.

Melendez co-founded his Latin cuisine catering company a decade ago during a period of homelessness, working with his brother Omar to provide Latin-infused goodness to weddings, quinceañeras and other celebratory events. A Cleveland Chain Reaction participant for the small business bootcamp’s Old Brooklyn cohort, Melendez joined JumpStart’s Core City program late last year.

After connecting to JumpStart, he realized he didn’t know as much about growing a business as he thought. The knowledge he received through Core City has extended beyond the length of the program to mentors who serve as sounding boards.

“As an entrepreneur, you can feel like you’re lost or don’t know who to go to if you have questions,” says Melendez. “Having someone to go over my business plan gives me a sense of safety and encourages me.”

Next up for Melendez Catering is a restaurant that its future proprietor sees as a lead generator for the catering business. While the idea is still in its infancy, Melendez is proud to bring jobs and high-end food to his community, not to mention a surplus of business know-how he gleaned from JumpStart.

“I want to unite my community and make it better,” he says. “I see it as my responsibility to not only create jobs but to share knowledge.”

Consultancy entrepreneur Flowers says it can be difficult for women and minorities to find programs specific to their particular professional needs. JumpStart and its partners have effectively changed that dynamic for the region’s business owners.

“It’s great to have a seat at the table, to network with people who could just get you a phone contact,” says Flowers. “Had I not linked with JumpStart, I wouldn’t be aware of [the resources] I could’ve tapped into.”


What can you do to support women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cleveland?

*Learn more about the Hispanic Business Center and other small-business resources.

*Attend the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day conference this November.

This article is part of our "CLE Means We: Advancing Equity & Inclusion in Cleveland" dedicated series, presented in partnership with Jumpstart, Inc., Greater Cleveland Partnership/The Commission on Economic Inclusion, YWCA of Greater Cleveland, and the Fund for Our Economic Future.

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.