The St. Louis Regional Chamber’s Diverse Business Accelerator (DBA) was formed in 2019 for ethnically, racially, and gender-diverse business owners looking to advance their business objectives and build capacity. Over three months, the program walks owners through how to develop their business goals, market and communicate their services, make meaningful connections, and prepare for growth. The Diverse Business Accelerator also sets up a framework to enhance a business’s capacity to grow and succeed by teaching business owners how to attract capital, operationally execute contracts, secure funding, find new contracts, and expand existing agreements. SeekCapital recently ranked St. Louis #1 for female entrepreneurs and we have one of the fastest growing rates for businesses owned by women and people of color.
The DBA focuses on practical solutions to everyday challenges for growing businesses. But what participants find most beneficial is being matched with a C-suite mentor, connecting with other business owners facing similar challenges, and accessing the Regional Chamber’s wide network of potential suppliers and business partners among our members. Growing any business relies on a strong support system and a network of opportunities; this is especially true for businesses owned by women and people of color. Networks mean nothing if a business owner is not able to make valuable connections. DBA seeks to connect small business owners to networks; through this program, businesses develop the skills to meaningfully connect. Participants have an opportunity rarely afforded to small business owners - to step away from the day to day of the business to work on their business.
Learning to pitch your business is also a key component of DBA. Every time a business owner is asked, “What do you do?” in a business setting, they are being given an opportunity to pitch their business. Therefore, it is important that business owners can clearly and concisely articulate the why, what, who and how of their business. When business owners can do this, they are more likely to make valuable business connections that often translate to contracting and/or investment opportunities.
Pitching is not always formal. One such example happened last year at the Regional Chamber’s 183rd Annual Event. Deanna Hemphill, Vice President of My T Sharp Janitorial, a DBA participant met the owner of a business for which she had been trying unsuccessfully to secure a contract with. In a brief conversation during the event, Deanna was able to share enough information about her business and its value to the market that when it was time for the company to find a new janitorial service, My T Sharp Janitorial was asked to submit a bid for the work. And guess what, they won the contract!
The Diverse Business Accelerator is unique in that, participants are businesses leaders that are beyond the startup phase. Many of the business owners we work with have 10 or more years in business and/or are starting a second business. Even still, many have not had the opportunity to master effective pitching skills, proper messaging, or meaningful connections. Often these owners have created a successful business out of necessity and without the benefit of planning. “I avoided putting together my business plan, like many other firms. DBA allowed me to construct a unique business plan and get valuable feedback from experts that refined and improved the plan that will allow me to up-level my business,” explains Linda Williams, founder In-Person Away Virtual Events, LLC. DBA provides a space for owners to learn to pitch effectively and build or update their business plan.
The wrap around services extend well beyond the 12 weeks of in class programming to include one on one coaching, networking opportunities, mentoring and other technical support as needed. Once a business owner becomes a part of DBA they have access to resources for as long as they need them.
The St. Louis Regional Chamber is beginning a series, Growth Ready – DBA Reflections, of blog posts that will highlight Diverse Business Accelerator participant companies. You will get a look into their business and the successes achieved thanks to what they learned through the program.