Discover Next Level 2.0

(pictured left to right, Dr. Constance Peek-Longmire, Asha Zayn, Lucas Tindell and Da’Shika Street)

Earlier this month, Bounce announced a revamped and expanded program for Black entrepreneurs who want to scale their established businesses. The Next Level Business Incubator, founded in 2019 by Ace Epps, Bounce’s director of inclusive entrepreneurship, includes several additional benefits and resources, such as the hiring of three Black entrepreneurs in residence (EIRs) – business owners and experts who provide one-on-one advising to other entrepreneurs. This is the cornerstone of the program; previously, EIRs were only available to Bounce’s technology clients due to restricted funding from the State of Ohio.

These services and benefits for Next Level clients include:

  • Accounting and financial services
  • Core business operations services (marketing, legal compliance, etc.)
  • Access to the Bounce entrepreneurial network
  • Business coaching and advisory services (EIRs)
  • Networking opportunities and community events
  • Action plan development
  • Affordable office space and shared workspace

There is no cost to join the Next Level Business Incubator. However, to be accepted into the program, companies must meet certain criteria and are required to fulfill specific obligations if they are accepted. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

We recently sat down with Asha Zayn, program manager for Next Level, to discuss the program in more details and why these changes are so important for Black businesses.

What is the biggest difference in the new Next Level?

Zayn: When I initially started in 2020, the Next Level program was a roundtable format for entrepreneurs who were well-established and looking to build community with a touch of resources. Every other month, we would host a workshop to come together and there would be a deck or presenter for a topic. We discussed challenges, such as how reach their target demographics.

Now, the program is more focused, because, in addition to troubleshooting business issues, it requires being proactive and planning ahead on how to scale your business. Each client has an assigned EIR and myself, as program manager. They will be looking to each EIR for assistance through the process and I can meet them both with resources to fill that gap.

Why was it so important to add EIRs to the programming?

Zayn: People define success in different ways, so it is important for Black entrepreneurs to specifically see and learn from other Black business owners who are well-established and successful. The community recognized a gap in services for Black entrepreneurs, so Bounce procured funding and re-launched Next Level.

*(Thank you to the City of Akron, Huntington Akron Foundation and the Burton D. Morgan Foundation for the funding to make this possible.)

Who is the ideal candidate for Next Level?

Zayn: Our ideal Next Level client is a Black entrepreneur who is making money in their business but is not sure how to scale. They are also having a challenging time allocating funds and delegating tasks. And they should be coachable; as long as you’re coachable and committed to regular meetings with your EIR, then you’re checking all my boxes.

Does Bounce/Next Level provide funding for companies?

Zayn: No, Bounce does not provide funding to help businesses directly. It is a common misconception. We can help you find opportunities for grants, funding and investing within the ecosystem, but there are several parameters around it. I always lead by saying that we cannot guarantee any type of funding, but we do want to help our Black entrepreneurs find the resources they need.

What advice can you provide to Black entrepreneurs?

Zayn: First, show up and do the work to make their business better.

I would also say to make connections and form relationships with other owners, mentors, advisors and community members. It’s not always as simple as walking through the door even if it’s a door you’ve been pointed toward.

Next Level is part of the GROW program at Bounce. Learn more and apply here.