Source: Daily Breeze
There is a powerful business incubator in the heart of Carson.
Its mission is not to create the latest buzzy tech startup — but to elevate and empower locally owned businesses.
So far, it seems, that mission is working.
The first class of the Small Business Growth Academy recently graduated and are already encouraging the next cohort of participants to apply.
The academy stems from a partnership between Carson and the Innovation Incubator at Cal State Dominguez Hills. The program is open to small businesses in Carson — those with 100 or fewer employees and/or revenue $20 million per year or less — and provides 10 weeks of workshops to help local companies expand and improve their operations.
The program is free.
“I wanted a small business academy for our small businesses here in the city of Carson,” Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes, who came up with the idea for the program, said during a recent City Council meeting, “because our small businesses are the lifeline of the city of Carson.
“I’m so excited about what the class offered and I’m excited about the next class,” she added, “because these graduates are going to be their cheerleaders.”
The academy workshops are run by serial entrepreneur David Ochi, who is also the executive director of the CSUDH Innovation Incubator. The incubator also runs programs for students and staff, and is specifically designed to meet the needs of the community.
“Most (incubators) focus on scalable startups that follow the classic trajectory of, you come up with an idea, you refine it using all sorts of neat tools from Silicon Valley, get angel funding, get VC (venture capital) backing and work your way to going public or acquired,” Ochi said. “Those are great and we don’t dislike those, but they’re just not in tune with the reality of our community.”
More than 80% of the Cal State Dominguez Hills student body are people of color, with around 66% eligible for pell grants and about half being first-generation college students. Many students are also juggling multiple jobs and some are parenting, Ochi said.
“We intentionally have crafted our programming around focusing on attainable business goals, knowing that the skills they learn by running a small or micro enterprise are highly valuable in the workforce,” Ochi said, “and also set them up for success when they do decide they’re ready to do a big scalable venture.”
The Small Business Growth Academy focuses on practical knowledge and skills that will help local businesses succeed. These include marketing growth strategy, consumer relationship management, business financing, tech tools for business, branding strategy, and permitting and legal processes.
Jannette Gonzalez, the owner of GBros Promotional Products & Services, said that her custom trophy and banner business was struggling to get back on track post-pandemic and that the class was an invaluable resource.
In particular, Gonzalez said, she benefited from learning social media, business software skills and how to obtain loans geared toward small businesses.
Alixandra Cignoli, owner of the Carson franchise European Wax Center, said she benefited from the opportunity to refocus on core business fundamentals.
“It (the program) was so wonderful,” Cignoli said. “It exceeded all expectations.”
Both Cingnoli and Gonzalez said one of the program’s highlights was the tight-knit community formed among participants and the love of Carson they share.
“From the very first class, one of the things that came across clearly was that every single one of the companies talked about how great it was to be in Carson,” Ochi said. “One of the best learning outcomes for me was to realize how important the community is here for the small businesses and how much they want to see the community succeed.”
The first cohort plans on continuing to meet up with each other regularly and will serve as mentors for the new class.
Ochi said he also wants to create a closer relationship between CSUDH students and small businesses in the incubator by having communications and accounting students apply the skills they learn in the classroom to the participating businesses.
The application for the second cohort is currently available on CSUDH’s website and the program will kick off in late January or early February, Ochi said.
“I would say that it is worth making the time and I know and I’m one of those people that I’m always busy and at first I even hesitated to apply,” Gonzalez said. “But I learned a lot and was exposed to other businesses. The resources you get – I don’t know if you can even put a price on it.”