Akron's Bounce Innovation Hub fosters mentorship and community for minority entrepreneurs – WKSU News

Since it was founded in 2018, Bounce Innovation Hub in Akron has worked to support entrepreneurship and innovation in the city. One of its main areas of focus has been promoting Black entrepreneurship. Its three-track program that supports minority and women entrepreneurs is getting some updates.
Community members gathered this past Thursday at Bounce’s Startup Showcase in Downtown Akron. The event provided an opportunity for entrepreneurs to show off their businesses. Many of them are participants of Bounce’s GROW program, which stands for Generating Real Opportunity and Wealth. GROW primarily serves minority and women entrepreneurs.
68.8% of Bounce’s clients were women or minorities in 2021, and 114 entrepreneurs participated in GROW programming last year.
“We always envisioned it as being three tracks for people with ideas, people who just started a small business and then people who had a small business who needed additional support,” Chief Operating Officer Jessica Sublett said.
That first track is the Aspiring Entrepreneurs Program, which helps people with a business idea begin thinking like an entrepreneur.
One small business owner who just finished the first track is Celena Collins, CEO of Nation Wide Locally Accepted, a Black family-owned clothing company.
“We were just kind of winging it, so we were making clothes, and we were putting stuff online and things like that. But we didn’t really know that we should be looking for a certain market or figuring out what market we had,” Collins said. “So it taught us quite a bit about the technicalities of business, and that was pretty valuable for us.”
Collins eventually hopes to participate in the next track of GROW, MORTOR, which is a 15 week small business accelerator. The program includes one-on-one mentorship, a pitch competition, business support, brand development strategies and an alumni program.
Lori Parnell graduated from MORTOR earlier this year. The second track helped her expand her business, Black Culture Candles.
“I create candles with unique fragrances inspired by our shared memories and experience,” Parnell said.
Parnell won MORTOR’s end of the program pitch competition. For her, the biggest gift of participating in Bounce programming was receiving a mentor.
“I really don’t make a big decision without consulting my mentors you know because when you’re a ‘solo-preneur’ and it’s only you in the business, you’re looking at everything through your own lens,” Parnell said. “And sometimes you need to talk to other people just to get some outside perspective.”
The final track of GROW is the Next Level Business Incubator, which was revamped this year to also include mentorship. Participants are paired with one of Bounce’s entrepreneurs in residence, or EIRs, to help them navigate growing their company, getting more customers, increasing revenue, managing business relationships and contracts and developing marketing strategies. Participants also attend quarterly meetings that include presentations by experts, networking and collaboration opportunities.
“What we’re looking to do is encourage and amplify building community while building rapport with the EIR and our client so that they’re able to feel a sense of comfort and inclusiveness while also building and growing as entrepreneurs themselves and in turn impacting their businesses positively,” said Asha Zayn, program manager for Next Level.
Lori Parnell from Black Culture Candles is now a part of Next Level. She said she relies heavily on that community.
“And you can’t do it alone. That’s the one thing I learned. You cannot build a business alone,” Parnell said. “You need your mentors. You need your support system. You need the people around you. You cannot build a business in a vacuum.”
In Next Level, participants work with their mentors to make action plans. This is what Dejuana Waters-Herald said has helped her the most. She started her consulting and coaching business Given Charge Services in 2018 but the pandemic stunted her growth.
Then someone told her about Bounce, and she joined the Next Level Business Incubator.
“So I’m learning a lot about marketing and I’m learning a lot about like making sure I know my audience and things like that,” Waters-Herald said. “And all of that was put in a plan, like here’s where we’re going to start, and then when we do this, we’ll do this.”
Bounce’s Chief Operating Officer Jessica Sublett said each track of GROW is catered to each entrepreneur, to meet them where they are and help them grow to reach their goals.
“Regardless of the program we want to move them forward,” Sublett said. “We want to make realistic milestones that they can reach and move to the next level.”
Next for GROW is bringing the first track of the program to entrepreneurs where they are. Instead of only holding the programming at Bounce, Sublett said they are working with community development corporations in Akron to offer workshops throughout the city on how to take the first steps to start a successful business.


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