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A cottage baker, a dropshipper, and trucking company co-owners were among the Auburn-area entrepreneurs who advanced their business aspirations and operations this summer as part of the inaugural class of Jumpstart East Alabama.
Hosted and co-sponsored by the Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship in the Harbert College of Business, Jumpstart provided 10 local entrepreneurs with resources, knowledge, and community partnerships to help start or grow their businesses.
Josh Sahib (right foreground), director of Auburn University's Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship, instructs entrepreneurs in one of the six summer sessions designed to help them launch or grow their businesses.
“Jumpstart is very focused on being actionable and tactical—the core steps you need to get a business off the ground, the core things to consider about whether the business can be profitable, and how to get the word out about your business so it can succeed,” said Joshua Sahib, director of the Lowder Center and an instructor in Auburn University’s Department of Management.
The entrepreneurs gathered six consecutive Saturdays at the Auburn Chamber of Commerce building, where they received roughly 30 hours of instruction from Sahib and guest speakers like Eloise Stewart, a branding consultant and coach with Eloise Design Co., and AJ Stephens with Sabre Finance, a non-profit financial lender for Alabama startups.
The Jumpstart program would not have been possible without the support of partner agencies including the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, Alabama State Black Chamber of Commerce, Opelika Chamber of Commerce, East Alabama Black Chamber of Commerce, City of Auburn, Small Business Development Center, and New Venture Accelerator.
Darius and Kristine Ball own and operate B All Trucking LLC, an early-stage startup they founded in 2021 that focuses on delivery of freight, including general merchandise, packaged foods, and paper products. His background is in logistics, while she has management experience along with a Harbert MBA.
The couple has attended other forums for new businesses in the past, but they benefitted from the networking opportunities and knowledge exchange at Jumpstart.
“There was information that we were already familiar with, but it was presented in a context where we left having gained more than what we came in with,” said Darius. “I didn’t go into this with the idea of wanting to connect with others; I went in with the idea of gaining knowledge for my own business, but the networking experience was definitely a plus.”
Kristine appreciated the content and the collegial atmosphere each week.
“What was different about this program was Josh,” Kristine said. “The way he presents information is good for people with no business background…so you’re not intimidated by the content or overwhelmed by concepts. I believe there are a lot of people out there who want to start their own businesses based on hobbies and interests, but they’re intimidated by being a business owner because they think you have to have an MBA or some type of schooling to pursue it.”
A new resident of the Auburn area, Jan Martin is launching Signature Sweets, a cottage bakery that specializes in desserts and treats for special occasions like baby showers, weddings, and graduations.
“I don’t have a background in business, so I found this program incredibly enticing,” said Martin. “[Jumpstart] was critical for me because I’m starting from ground zero.”
She gained a lot from the session on accounting and financial considerations, particularly learning how to calculate margins and price points.
“There were a lot of math formulas that you needed to learn and integrate into creating your success,” Martin said. “Being priced appropriately is critical. That was helpful for me.”
Ten local entrepreneurs participated in the inaugural Jumpstart East Alabama program.
In addition to Jumpstart, Martin said she’s impressed with the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Auburn-Opelika area, which includes resources like the New Venture Accelerator that is run jointly by the Harbert College of Business and Auburn Research and Technology Foundation.
According to Martin, the Accelerator recently matched her with a mentor, who provided some timely guidance on how to move forward with a potential client.
Rickeita Cade participated in Jumpstart because she wanted to parlay her knack for organization and design into a viable dropshipping company. She got the idea for her business, Cade Home Essentials, after watching The Home Edit television show and years of organizing her own spaces and home.
A full-time Auburn employee and mom to a three-year-old child, Cade hopes to someday have her own line of home organizational products that she has designed herself.
According to Cade, one of the most beneficial aspects of Jumpstart was learning how to write a business plan.
“I’d never really thought about writing a business plan,” Cade said. “We had a class on this topic, where Josh gave us a worksheet and took us through 10 steps… and by looking at [the process] as one segment at a time enabled me to write an entire business plan.”
The Balls’ long-term goal is to use their business acumen to improve the smaller communities around Auburn, providing employment opportunities through their trucking business and possibly launching other businesses.
“We have a lot of different ideas on how we can improve our community because that was one of our key reasons for participating,” said Kristine. “There were a lot of people that also participated that provide services in the community, so we can partner with them. We want to make sure our community thrives.”
Jumpstart participants will have a shot at advancing their entrepreneurism further at the September 29 Ideas Jam pitch event sponsored by the Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship, where they’ll compete with other community-based and student entrepreneurs for five cash prizes of $1,000 to support their early-stage startups.
“This money can help them get [their business] off the ground or grow a little bit, so they’ll be capable of doing more mature pitch programs later,” said Sahib, noting the funds could be used to buy a domain name, purchase critical equipment, or register their LLC.
Sahib based Jumpstart East Alabama on the Urban Poverty Business Initiative, a program run by University of Notre Dame Professor Michael Morris that uses entrepreneurship to pull people out of poverty nationwide.
Applications for the next Jumpstart cycle will open late-Spring 2023. This program is primarily geared toward micro-entrepreneurs who have faced one or more difficult circumstances. However, it is broadly open to anyone in East Alabama trying to start or grow a business. More information is available on the Jumpstart website.