Over the summer, New Sun Rising hosted three virtual Community Small Business Workshops to help entrepreneurs access vital resources and navigate the changing Covid-19 landscape.
Catering to Wilkinsburg, Homewood, and the Hilltop, NSR partnered with local organizations in each neighborhood to create workshops that met the specific needs of those communities’ businesses. Jamie Johnson, director of programs at NSR, said a lot of the work with participants was around marketing and creating an online presence.
“Most of them had direct face-to-face contact as part of their business before Covid, and we were trying to help them find ways to still meet the needs of their customers while maintaining relevance,” Johnson said.
The two hour workshops gave participants the opportunity to connect with and receive financial support from Honeycomb Credit before being paired off with mentors, who Johnson had matched with mentees prior to the workshops. Participants were also asked to complete a Pivot Action Plan Lean Canvas before the workshop, which was given to their mentors “so they could maximize their time together and prepare for a pitch competition,” Johnson said.
Digital Bridges Executive Director Connie Capiotis was a mentor for all three workshops, and said after mentees completed the financial part of the workshop, they paired off their mentors to prepare for the live pitch competition with three judges from each community.
Capiotis said having the Lean Canvas before the workshop was an advantage, because “it helps entrepreneurs, especially new entrepreneurs, fine tune their thought process.”
“As entrepreneurs, we like to be big, creative thinkers and a tool like the lean canvas helps to take these big ideas and flesh them out so you can set smart goals and action plans,” Capiotis said.
The workshops were an adaptation of the Ignite program that NSR has hosted in the past and it was the first time they had been held online to adhere to Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings.
“NSR pivoting to a virtual platform to deliver the workshops was nothing short of a testament to the resources and skill sets within their staff. Covid presented a global learning curve impacting everyone,” said Ebony McQueen-Harris, relationship manager and strategist with Omicelo Cares and mentor for all three of the workshops.
Johnson said there was a “great turnout,” regarding the number of participants. There were over 30 registered, with 87% of participants being people of color and 47% were women.
According to NSR’s Vibrancy Index for Sustainable Development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, Wilkinsburg ranks worse than 62.1 percent of the census tracts in Allegheny County; the Hilltop ranks worse than 45.5 percent, and Homewood ranks worse than 52.8 percent. Community Small Business Workshops like the ones held last summer also help the region make progress on Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10), create Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11), and decrease Poverty (SDG 1).
Each participant received a $150 stipend plus $1,500 of additional financial awards that were given out at each workshop, and ongoing entrepreneurial support.
“Following the workshop, they were connected to [Forward Cities] Resource Navigators Vernard Alexander and Samantha Black to help them get connected to additional resources and whatever they needed as they worked on their capacity,” Johnson said.
Programs like these are dependent on funding; if organizations are interested in sponsoring one or several Community Small Business Workshops, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. Funding for this program was provided by the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania.