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Working Together to Meet the Needs of Akron’s Entrepreneurs

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By Ace Epps, Entrepreneur in Residence

There is a quote that I am fond of by James Cash Penny, the founder of JC Penny. It is, “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.” As a creative individual, I believe that using an entrepreneurial mindset and working together is how we help others reach their goals. I spent the last 20 years doing just that while making a difference in the areas of workforce development, black male engagement and supporting minority businesses.

I recently joined Bounce Innovation Hub as an entrepreneur in residence and small business advisor. I am excited to bring creative and passionate insight to local entrepreneurs as we look to make new programs and services to impact minority and non-tech-focused businesses.

Filling a gap

The timing couldn’t be any better. Small business owners and those who are thinking about starting a business need help. For many, that means getting help from local business counselors or organizations that specialize in everything from creating business plans to accessing capital. Others spend a lot of time learning from individuals who’ve started a business, while finding themselves attending a lot of networking events.

These methods are great and we collaborate with many of these organizations to make sure entrepreneurs get what they need. But, every so often, people need more ongoing help as they make key decisions that affect their businesses. Through structured classes and development tracks and one-on-one advising and by acting as an advocate for Akron’s entrepreneurs, particularly non-tech and minority businesses, I hope to fill that gap with my role here at Bounce.

Bringing experience and expertise

Because I am new to Bounce, I’d like to share with you some of my philosophies when working with entrepreneurs and how my experiences brought me to Bounce.

In the early 2000s, I was working in community corrections, where I had the opportunity to recruit and hire new employees for a local nonprofit organization called Oriana House Inc. As a recruiter, I would interview new candidates biweekly.  I realized that we were always hiring new staff because candidates were looking for a check, not necessarily a job or a career.  

In efforts to build talent retention, I would share the fundamental aspect of entrepreneurial thinking with new hires. I would tell them that they should look at themselves as a business who has been hired to solve a problem.

Entrepreneurs are actually someone who identify a problem then they create a validated solution – you are that solution.” This would be my go-to line to empower new hires and contribute to the organization’s bottom line.

I took and created this new philosophy and made it my personal mission statement. With this new way of thinking, I have been honored to have worked with some key organizations that share my view of entrepreneurial thinking. Over the years, I have work as a fellowship director for BMe Community Akron. BMe is a national, award-winning network of innovators, leaders and champions who invest in aspiring communities. Akron is home to the BMe Genius Fellowship, which comprises black male coaches, mentors, teachers, public servants and entrepreneurs who contribute to building a more caring and prosperous America together.

I was also employed for eight years at the Akron Urban League/Minority Business Development Center. where I managed the Ice House Entrepreneur Program for would-be business owners and emerging entrepreneurs. This program was focused on implementing the entrepreneurial mindset and validating business ideas. (Look for more news to come on how we’re implementing the Ice House program here at Bounce!)

I also served as a program assistant for the PMBA (Partnership for Minority Accelerator) for minority businesses who make over $100,000 annually.

Finally, while working in the Transitions Reentry Program, I served as a job developer and I facilitated job readiness classes for returning citizens. And, as the program manager at OPEN M, I created and implemented a new model for their workforce development department.

In 2015, I decided to start my own business called the Self Advancement Center, where I provide workshops and classes focusing on employment and entrepreneurship.

All of this has been part of a journey that has led me to where I am today.

If you are an entrepreneur or even thinking about becoming one, get a hold of me and we can talk. I can be reached at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from and working with you.

This fall, Ace is leading a new program here at Bounce – the Aspiring Entrepreneur Program. It is a 10-week program, with classes every Monday, 5:30-7 p.m., starting on Sept. 30. It is focused on individuals with ideas who are considering making a change to entrepreneurship or who have a new business and need some help. Learn more and/or register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/aspiring-entrepreneur-program-registration-68282283147. Space is limited and spots are going fast!