June 13, 2019

It Takes a Village to Raise a Small Business

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How E for All Lynn helps entrepreneurs take their ideas from formation to fully-fledged businesses with Business Accelerators

by Joey Phoenix

Entrepreneurs are the people who have new, bold, and often unshakable ideas. These ideas keep them up at night and inspire them to do all sorts of things – some riskier than others – to bring them about. In turn, these ideas have the capacity to take over their entire lives, for better or worse.

Sometimes entrepreneurs get lucky and soon after their ideas are born, they pitch them and get immediate support. Sometimes ideas die out before they ever even meet reality. Other times, entrepreneurs can work on these ideas, flesh them out, and find the resources they need to transform their ideas into a full-fledged business – but finding these resources and connections isn’t always easy.

This is where E for All comes in.

Entrepreneurship for All (E for All) opened its doors in Lynn in 2015 and, since then, has played an important role in increasing the number of diverse businesses on the North Shore. Although E for All’s flagship company is based in Lowell, and they have locations all over eastern Massachusetts, they chose to also open in Lynn. In doing so, their Lynn-based programs have provided the resources and aid needed for dozens of entrepreneurs to get their ideas off the ground and turn them into marketable, thriving businesses in that community.

“We’re trying to support new entrepreneurs at the entrance to the pipeline, people who just have ideas and don’t know where to start,” explains E for All Lynn Director, Kevin Moforte. “We focus heavily on under-networked, under-resourced entrepreneurs, people with low income, women, people of color. We are E for All, but we do go out of our way to recruit people who don’t have the same resources as those who are more privileged.”

Some of the entrepreneurs that E for All has helped on their way to success are Nate McNiff of The Wandering Stage, Kim Gregory of Pure Pastry, Carla Orr of The Ladies Entrance, Anita Deeley of Beverly Bees, and Jesenia Morales of Romeo’s Smoothies and Juices Pop-up Bar, to name a small few.

E for All Business Accelerator

There are two main ways that entrepreneurs can get involved with E for All’s programming. The first is Pitch Contests where startups can present their business idea, build experience presenting, and get valuable feedback from judges who are industry experts. Participants in the Pitch Contests are also eligible to win money to help them get started. The next two upcoming Pitch Contests are the Holyoke Summer All Ideas Pitch Contest on July 25 and the Change the World Pitch Contest on August 1.

The other way for entrepreneurs to gain access to E for All’s programs and networks is by applying to their Business Accelerator, a year-long program (two cohorts annually) where entrepreneurs begin by taking classes and learning about the ins and outs of running a business, followed by an in-depth mentorship program where the entrepreneurs are matched with local business people who can give advice and guidance during the fledgling steps of business ownership.

Also, as of 2018, they have programs both in English and in Spanish.

“We pride ourselves that about eight out of ten of the entrepreneurs who come through our programs are still in business and slowly growing their sales a year later,” Moforte said.

One of the entrepreneurs who came through the program was Kim Gregory of Pure Pastry, who, when she applied for the accelerator, had five employees and was doing alright, but her books were a mess.

“She didn’t know what was going in and what was going out,” Moforte recalled. “Through the program she was able to communicate with her customers a lot better, learning how to articulate her message and use her resources more wisely. She also slowly started taking control of her costs and different strategies to sell more in wholesale and different retail avenues.”

Since finishing the program, Pure Pastry has added three more people to the bakery staff and has seen considerable growth. “When she came to E for All she had a business, just not the framework or the organization for her to grow, so we were able to help with that,” Moforte said.

Two other entrepreneurs who were in Kim Gregory’s Business Accelerator cohort were Carla Orr from The Ladies Entrance and Anita Deeley of Beverly Bees.

When Orr applied for the program, she had the heart and energy behind her idea, but she wasn’t exactly sure how to articulate it to anyone else. She also explained how she wasn’t confident about being accepted into the program to begin with.

“It was like we were speaking different languages,” Orr said. ”When I got in, I felt like I was definitely the ‘we’re going to take a chance on you’ business.”

Moforte described his first meeting with Orr similarly: “Carla sat down and I had no idea what she was talking about, and it took a long time for me to understand it. We admitted her into the program before I really understood what she was trying to do. But she seemed so committed, so dedicated, she seemed very coachable.”

And she was, and what’s more, she knew what she wanted. Orr came into the program with a very creative mindset about the kind of business she wanted to run and how she wanted to do it. As a heart-driven business owner, it was important to her that she did things in an authentic way, and while she was able to incorporate the resources and networking tools that E for All had to offer her, she also did it in a way that stayed true to her vision.

Based in Beverly, MA, Orr originally applied for the program because she was attracted to the idea of having a team navigate her through the difficult waters of entrepreneurship, someone that wouldn’t take over the structure or design of the boat itself, but would help her steer it in the right direction.

“What I was really looking for when I saw the post for [E for All] was accountability and having other people to talk to,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of research about how to run a business and I have my own experience as an artist being self-employed, but what I really wanted was the hand-holding, to know that I wasn’t alone in this.”

Orr spent three months in classes, alongside Deeley and Gregory and others, learning all that she could and trying not to compare her journey to others in her cohort who had more business experience than her. “I definitely went through the program with some insecurities about where they were at and where I was, but comparing yourself to others is not good.”

But ultimately she described the experience as very positive:“The people in the program were understanding and helpful. We could hear each other’s frustrations and we got a lot from each other.”

At the end of the session of classes, Orr went from not fully knowing how to articulate her business message to being chosen as the speaker representing the cohort at the awards ceremony. “My peers picked me to represent everybody else,” Orr remembered. “And that was a really big moment for me being able to speak as an entrepreneur to the group.”

During the Accelerator, E for All also assigns three mentors to each entrepreneur for weekly meetups to help keep them on track, even after classes end.

“I was lucky because I had a pretty good rapport with my mentors,” Orr said. “I’m still in touch with them even now, and I’m going to do a six-month meeting with one of them next month.”

Over the last few months, Orr has seen growth and change in The Ladies Entrance, especially in terms of how she works with other business owners in similar industries. “I am now bringing other people into my business and doing more collaboration.

“So much of my idea about business is [around] community, what I am excited about and what I’ve seen develop in my business is working with other businesses, having them come to the studio.

“When I started E for All I wasn’t thinking along those lines, I thought I had to do it all. But they taught me that in order to survive as a business you have to pivot and change,” she added.

Anita Deeley from Beverly Bees came through the Business Accelerator program at the same time as Carla Orr, and had an equally beneficial and encouraging experience. Deeley started her business as a hobby and has seen massive expansion since she shifted her mindset from hobby to fully-fledged business. She even won first place in the Pitch Contest for her group.

“E for All helped me learn the business lingo that I just didn’t know,” Deeley said. “I have a biology degree, not a business degree, and they taught me specific things about customers, financial budgeting, and projections for the future – things I had never even thought of.”

Since finishing the program, Deeley, like Orr, has also kept in touch with her mentors and has used their counsel to help make important business decisions. She’s outgrown her home-based business and will soon be expanding into a commercial location, which she’s really excited about.

“When I started with E for All it was just me and my husband, now I have eight employees and we’ve outgrown our little space. We’re also operating at farmer’s markets and vendors fairs up and down New England, and we actually need more people.”

From Big Ideas to Small Businesses

Sometimes, when new ideas come into being, they don’t always make it to the implementation phase in the same form. The Wandering Stage’s owner, Nate McNiff, learned a few things on the road from wanting to open a theatre venue in Haverhill to the creation of a fully operative mobile stage nearly three years later.

McNiff had been playing with the idea of opening a theatre in Haverhill, but the cost of maintaining the space, or even keeping the lights on long enough to be useful, seemed an impossible situation.

“It just really didn’t seem like a doable thing,” McNiff recalled. “And it seemed like, best case scenario, I would never get to do theatre ever again, because I’d be spending all of my days trying to figure out the numbers side of this.”

Frustrated by the inability to come up with a brick and mortar space that would make financial sense, and inspired by the movie Chef, starring John Favreau, about a chef who got so sick of being in a kitchen that he started a food truck, McNiff came up with the initial idea for the Wandering Stage.

“I thought that I could just make it mobile so that it’s not incurring overhead when it’s not being used, there are no utilities, there’s no rent, and it’s all just taken care of,” He said. “When I told this to [State Selectman] Andy Vargas, he told me he worked for this company E for All and that should look into them. And since two other people had already told me the same thing, that’s what I did.”

McNiff applied for the Pitch Contest and came in second place before applying for the Business Accelerator, which he was accepted into, and started taking classes twice per week.

“[E for All] took me from the very beginning of running a business all the way to crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s and, on top of that, they assigned me three mentors who I got to work with one on one.” he described.

In three months, McNiff was able to take his idea from fledgling to fully-formed and is looking forward to his first events with the Wandering Stage at the end of June, with many more to follow this summer.

Jesenia Morales of Romeo’s Smoothies and Juices Pop-up Bar also originally planned to have her business be attached to a brick and mortar store before shifting her focus to a more mobilized idea. E for All was able to help her see the steps involved in this journey.

“That’s what we encourage our entrepreneurs to do,” E for All Lynn Director Moforte explained,  “We show them how can they start getting customers by spending as little money as possible.”

Morales began by selling her juices to a close circle of friends before creating the current iteration of Romeo’s, something she could quickly set up and take down to go to events and find her customers.

“She worked very hard at it, and she’s very good at it, so we tried to structure her brainstorming sessions and connect her to the right ventures and the right people. We’re always keeping an eye open for her,” Moforte added.

Morales still has the goal of opening a storefront, but instead of an immediate goal, it’s a three-year goal.

Entrepreneurship for All Means Actual Diversity

E for All’s message has always been that entrepreneurs with ideas have the right to give those ideas a chance. Just because an idea might be new or a bit non-traditional, or come from a new or non-traditional source – it doesn’t mean that it won’t work. Also, because of their focus on early-stage entrepreneurs, E for All aims to open up doors for the kinds of businesses that may not otherwise see daylight.

“We’re betting on entrepreneurs. We know because they’re early stage, their ideas are quite risky, but we’re fine with that. What we’re trying to do is create a mindset that if the business fails they’ll have the tools to do better next time,” Moforte explained.

Additionally, E for All’s programs are all completely free, which means that limited financial resources won’t keep entrepreneurs from having access to these opportunities. And with the creation of E para Todos, there are fewer language barriers as well.

“A lot of people start a business because they want to help their city and Lynn needs local entrepreneurs that love the city and want to see it grow, and that’s important for us too,” Moforte said.

“There are some things in life that sound too good to be true,” The Wandering Stage owner McNiff added, “So when I heard they were going to offer me free classes and that I could actually win money to go towards my business and there were all these mentors, I thought there had to be a catch, and there was no catch.

“They’re honestly just an amazing program trying to help people who have great business ideas but no formal business training fill in those gaps and help them get to the point where they can run their own business.”

To find out more about E for All or to apply for their upcoming Business Accelerator or Pitch Contests, head to their website at EforAll.org

Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. Follow them on Twitter @jphoenixmedia. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com

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