Issac Newton Kinity has a doctorate in counseling and psychology. He works by day repairing airplane engines. But what he really wants to do is start a business serving food from his home continent of Africa.
“I, myself, am quite fond of African food,” Kinity (pictured), who is from Kenya, said. “I want to introduce Americans to these foods.”
Kinity joined more than 30 people at the city’s new Small Business Academy on Dixwell Avenue with hopes that a three-month course will help him take his restaurant from idea to reality.
The academy kicked off its first two orientations this past week for aspiring and current small business owners in the city.
“We take the academy part of this seriously,” Jackie James (pictured), director of the city’s Small Business Services Center, said at the orientation. “Treat this like school. You will have homework. Get here early and don’t miss class. If you do, we might have to ask you to leave the program.”
“I have people still calling me to get into the academy,” she noted.
With an unemployment rate, particularly among black and hispanic New Haveners, that has been described by city officials and job advocates as crisis level, the Harp administration has been dedicating some of the city’s small resources and leveraging its ties to the business community to help local people start their own businesses. The state Department of Labor puts the city’s unemployment rate at 7.7 percent, but for blacks and latinos the unemployment rate is 18 percent and 20.7 percent, respectively.
Natalie Oliver (pictured) started Hats By Natalie, F. & A. (fabulous and affordable) three years ago. Oliver started her business after she was laid off from AT&T. That first year, she stayed close to home and worked around her house and yard. But by the second year, she said her doctor told her, “You’re young, you’ve got to interact with people.”
“I like to wear hats,” she said. “I thought that would be a nice business to get into.” She admitted hats “are not an easy commodity to sell,” but “if you find a woman who loves hats, you have a customer.” Over the last three years, she’s learned that she has to have something else to offer the woman who doesn’t wear hats.
Oliver said she wanted to participate in the academy to learn how to grow her business. Monday night there was almost an even split between people who were looking to start a business and those looking to take their existing business to new heights.
James Hall and Reorn Jones (pictured left and right) were among those hoping the academy will help them expand. They’re the owners of Sparklez Cleaning LLC., a residential and commercial cleaning, and landscaping business. They’ve been in business only 60 days, but they want to learn about how to bid for contracts and bigger jobs, which they hope will translate into being able to hire more people.
At the Dixwell academy and the downtown small-business office, the city is showing people how to write a business plan and putting them in direct contact with sources for funding. And it’s doing that without charging people who use the services, including the courses being offered through the academy.
James said the academy has something for start-ups, existing businesses and people who want a business, but don’t even know what kind of business to start. She said each person who completes the course will walk away with a business plan, the skills to run a financially sound business, and access to funding.
A lucky few will get to start their business in the academy’s incubator. The academy has 19 spaces that entrepreneurs can use as their office space, as well as an administrative assistant. They also can use the academy’s address as their business address, hold business meetings in the academy’s conference rooms and have access to basic office supplies for $25 a week. The fee goes toward replenishing basic supplies for the incubator like printing paper.
“So often I’ve seen people go through programs and leave with nothing,” James told attendees. “You will leave here with something.” Those who successfully finish the course will have a graduation in September.
But first they’ll work with people like city small business development officer Clay Williams (pictured in the blue shirt), who started and ran a commercial cleaning business while working in the banking industry. He wasted no time Monday night letting people know how difficult it is to be their own boss.
Other academy instructors include: Joseph Williams, Small Business Development Center; Orlando Marquez, First Niagara; James Ponder Jr., Ponder Financial Services; Denis Brown; Springboard Consulting; Jobana Maldonado, Spanish American Merchants Association; Larcina Carrington Wynn, Carrington Financial Serivces, Stephen Bellis, New Haven Bar Association; Beth Wallace, Connecticut Economic Resource Center; Seth Godfrey, New Haven Public Library; Pat Sanders, SCORE; and Kim Hawkins, HEDCO Inc.
“It’s hard work and it has its rewards, but if you want to start a business because you want to get eight hours of sleep every night, don’t start a business,” said Williams, who told attendees how he worked his corporate bank job by day and operated his cleaning business by night. “If you want to start a business because you want two weeks vacation every year, don’t go into business.”