Urban Vision Initiative Moves Past Boot Camp And Closer To Goal … – Chattanooga Pulse

January 9, 2023
10:47 AM
Trying to create an exclusive bridal studio from whole cloth, Veatrice Conley turned to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Urban Vision Initiative, which connects local entrepreneurs from underserved communities with student consultants to help pave the path to economic viability.
Conley and eight other would-be entrepreneurs recently completed their first milestone, graduating from a six-week boot camp consisting of six four-hour sessions on Saturday mornings to stabilize their new businesses or tweak business plans.
“It’s just been rewarding to sit with other entrepreneurs from the area, especially those who look like me, and to just be welcomed amongst them,” said Conley, 39, owner of Unveiled Bridal Studio on Cherry Street in downtown Chattanooga.
Conley considers her bridal studio eclectic, exclusive—appointment only—and unique because it caters its “bohemian” dresses to African Americans.
“It’s a wonderful wedding gown shopping experience that we ladies dream about as young girls,” she said. “We carry very unique gowns. African American designers don’t cater to this area. This is our niche for the studio.
“The Urban Vision Initiative has helped me take a deeper dive into my business plan to identify what I could do better in my business moving forward. Two big takeaways have been to focus on all points of contact I have with potential customers and how to better sell my brand to the marketplace,” Conley said.
“The entrepreneurial networking has been unmatched to any past business program I have participated in, and I owe a great deal of my recent business connections to UVI.”
Mike Bradshaw is the director of UVI as well as the first entrepreneur-in-residence at UTC’s Center for Innovation nd Entrepreneurship, both of which are housed within the Gary W. Rollins College of Business.
Since 2021, Bradshaw has been building the foundation of UVI, an entrepreneurship program designed to reduce poverty and wealth inequality among Chattanooga’s underserved communities. Nearly one in five Chattanoogans live in poverty.
UVI encourages budding entrepreneurs from these communities to take the leap and start or grow their own businesses—on the side if they have full-time jobs already. In return, program participants are mentored toward profitability through sessions with consultants and community leaders.
After the fall 2022 semester, seven student consultants who have trained for UVI will guide the entrepreneurs in specific areas, such as web design, cash flow and marketing. The program is made possible by the Jack and Charlotte Frost Family Foundation, which covers student pay and other expenses. Other program collaborators include Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union through its Idea Leap Grant competitions and LAUNCH Chattanooga, whose initiatives promote entrepreneurship, technology advancement, capital formation and workforce development.
UVI is fueling the hopes and dreams of entrepreneurs from underserved communities who want to run street-level mom-and-pop businesses, Bradshaw said.
“We help entrepreneurs determine if and when is a good time to quit your day job because that may never be the case if the business is not stable and predictable,” Bradshaw said.
“The rising tide doesn’t lift all boats. You have to pump some water into those communities. We’re connecting UTC to that aspect of the ecosystem of entrepreneurs.”
UVI is modeled after a program created by Michael H. Morris, a professor of entrepreneurship and social innovation at the University of Notre Dame. Morris also is behind the national Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, which provides free training, mentoring and management expertise for small businesses founded by military veterans.
Morris said the UVI project has partners in 26 cities in the U.S., Brazil, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Uganda, India and South Africa.
“We basically take the entire process from idea to sustainable business,” Morris said. “The challenge when you’re low income is much more complicated than just being low income. If you’re from poverty, you frequently face literacy gaps; you have trouble focusing on business because you have more nonbusiness factors, such as crime and [lack of affordable] housing. It’s a complex mosaic” that includes the “inability to focus and no safety net.
“The thing that might surprise you is just the huge volume of people in Chattanooga who have a dream for having their own business,” Morris added. “It’s a much bigger population than you think. Your program there is getting traction. We’re servicing 70 entrepreneurs a year and South Bend is not as big as Chattanooga, and we have a big wait list.”
Marshun Hardnett, 52, is a member of LAUNCH Chattanooga’s board but also one of nine UVI participants.
“I am so grateful for UVI,” said Hardnett, owner and lead designer for Enchanted Events Décor and More. “The program has truly reiterated for me the importance of having the business side of my business in order.
“You see, loving what you do is just not enough. One must also be able to properly manage their business,” she said. “Although this is something that I knew, UVI has really helped me to focus on getting my business in the proper order and setting up systems so that I can generate my desired profit.”
Shateria Smith, 31, founder, owner and CEO of SimplyProps LLC, said building her business has been a challenge made easier through UVI.
“UVI has been instrumental in uncovering blind spots in my business,” Smith said. “I have learned and put so many things into practice moving forward as a result of the course and its teachings.”
UVI participant Cardell Davis, 27, cofounded The Transition: Digitally Evolving, which helps business rebrand through researching demographics.
“This program has helped me thus far by their resources and their genuine care in making your business more successful,” Davis said. “The different presenters and connections that they know I don’t ever think I would have ever been able to make. This program has been a huge eye-opener by expanding the way I would approach my business.”
UTC’s Gary W. Rollins College of Business released thumbnail sketches of the nine participating entrepreneurs:
The UTC student consultants finishing up their training are:
Now that UVI’s first milestone—boot camp—has been completed, the next major step will be an event in early 2023 at Transcard, a Chattanooga-based company that provides payment-processing software and application programming interfaces for financial institutions and technology companies.
Bradshaw said participants would share their companies’ status and annual goals, including whatever assistance they require.
The entrepreneurs also may choose to compete for AccelUp’s $15,000 grant, which Transcard has committed to award to two UVI entrepreneurs.
In late spring, the final UVI milestone is to have all the businesses “in a position where they can move into the managed growth phase if they choose,” Bradshaw said. “There may be cases, however, when the entrepreneur decides there is not a workable business model they can pursue.”
Veatrice Conley is the owner of Unveiled Bridal Studio, located on Cherry Street in downtown Chattanooga. Photo by Angela Foster.
January 9, 2023
10:47 AM
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