By Ace Epps, director of inclusive entrepreneurship
There is a quote by Frederick Douglas that I live by: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” One of my first assignments when I joined the Bounce team in July 2019 as an entrepreneur in residence, was to write a blog introducing myself and discussing my ideas of working in diversity and inclusion. This included building a new space for minority entrepreneurs here at Bounce. I had a vision that this space would be welcoming to minority business owners as well aspiring entrepreneurs. The program would be crafted with the Black experience in mind while focusing on the cultural nuances that make African-American businesses different in the marketplace. We would embrace the obstacles, barriers – and yes, struggles – that many minority businesses have traditionally faced over the years domestically and right here in Summit County. And one year in, we’re doing it.
As an organization, Bounce was deliberate about creating programming and advocating for minority small businesses in Akron. And now we have results to show. Within a year’s time, we have created and are implementing our highly successful GROW program to meet the needs of our community’s minority business owners and entrepreneurs.
GROW (Generating Real Opportunities and Wealth) provides start-to-finish support for entrepreneurs, at any stage. It includes professional development to help them grow their businesses.
In 2019, we were off to an incredible start graduating our first Aspiring Entrepreneur class, advising more than 12 Next Level incubator clients (established small businesses grossing 10K or more) and planning our phase 2 program, MORTAR at Bounce, which kicked off in January. This year, we’ve graduated two more AE classes, are in the middle of our first MORTAR cohort and are reviewing applications for the second, which starts later this month.
Our three-person GROW team currently serves an average of 45 clients at any time.
Of course, this year, we have endured a lot as a country and Bounce has been no exception. With the biggest pandemic the country has seen in over 100 years to witnessing a national outcry because of systemic racism, I have had my hands full trying to navigate building an effective entrepreneur program and providing solutions for local minority business owners who are dealing with business closings, safety questions and racial issues.
Bounce was already prepared to tackle these issues because the GROW program was created to be more than just programming. GROW has become a resource and a haven for local minority business owners to get information and voice their views and opinions regarding business growth and creating a level playing field. As an organization, Bounce has positioned itself as a reputable and resourceful place in Akron for minority business owners.
In January, my role expanded when I was promoted to Director of Inclusive Entrepreneurship, leading the overall effort to ensure that Bounce is an option for all non-tech small businesses in the area and deepening our commitment to help minority entrepreneurs. Together with key collaborators such as the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, the City of Akron, the Akron Urban League/Minority Business Center, the Greater Akron Chamber, Summit County and many others, Bounce will continue to provide help to minority entrepreneurs in growing their businesses.
I remember when we started in July of last year – I was extremely excited to begin my journey as an entrepreneur in residence here at Bounce. At that time, my primary focus was to lead advisory services for minority and non-tech small businesses. My role evolved over the last 12 months to a director. This journey brings me back to that favorite Frederick Douglas quote: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”