By Danielle Ozbat
BizWorks celebrated its fifteenth year of supporting and mentoring small businesses at its first homecoming event last Thursday.
The nonprofit small business incubator – businesses incubate for three years, with the option to stay longer – was created by the Jefferson Davis Association in 2001 and uses a Business Builder program to address the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. BizWorks’ mission is to help develop new and emerging businesses that contribute to Chesterfield’s economic vitality and foster relationships with the community.
“Over the years we worked with about 75, 80 members and the good part about is that the majority of them are still in business,” Tanner Collins, assistant director of BizWorks, said. “Our goal is to always constantly be on the search for how can we make the member be successful? Thaddeus Huff, executive director of BizWorks, was excited to meet past members and catch up with current members. Huff said the homecoming celebration will be a yearly event.
“This is our first time doing this,” Huff said, “We figured we’d get [to see] all the companies that have been through here so it’s kind of exciting to have folks back.”
Along with Rick Young, owner of the Half Way House restaurant, Huff presented the first “Iron Spike” award to James Blackburn Sr., owner of Bellwood Road LLC, (the company rents out residential and commercial properties). The award is to honor someone who has shown commitment to small businesses and its name pays homage to the Falling Creek Ironworks, the first iron production facility in North America that was built in 1619.
Blackburn was not able to attend, so his son, James Blackburn Jr., accepted in his honor.
The event was catered by BizWorks members Andrea Williams and Phea Ram, who treated guests to a mashtini bar and smoothies respectively.
Williams owns Minnie Events and Catering, which has been operating for a year. She started with the Start Smart program, an intensive ten-week course that equips members with the skills and knowledge needed to start a business, and she did luncheons and catered at BizWorks events. Williams works full time, which only allows her to cater a few events, but she hopes to eventually do catering full-time.
“BizWorks has given me a lot of contacts [through] networking so there’s a lot of business out there for me,” Williams said. “It’s great meeting new people and I’m just excited for people to try my food and [my] different creations.”
Ram, a BizWorks member since 2011, owns Tropical Safari and eventually switched to the Virtual Entrepreneur Program, (which allows members to participate in the Business Builder program off-site), because he wanted to reorganize his business. He said business is picking up and he wants to add iced tea to the menu.
Another BizWorks member who has seen success is LaKesha Broussard, program director and chief creative officer of The Village Children and Family Services, which provides mental health services. Broussard was a guest speaker at the event and praised BizWorks for helping her with her business endeavors.
“If you’re really serious about growing your business and you want to be around a group of other entrepreneurs who are going to help you do that, then this [is] definitely the place for you.” Broussard said. “[BizWorks] is a great place … they support you, they hold you accountable, and for me that’s really important.”