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A “disconnected entrepreneur” might sound like someone running a company that isn’t tapped into what’s happening around them. And in a way, that’s true – but not the way you might suppose.

“Disconnected entrepreneurs” are those who have historically lacked access to the three essentials of successful businesses — capital, services and connections. Black-, Latinx- and women-owned businesses often find themselves without these three essentials and, as a result, may struggle to succeed.

Connecting our region’s enterprising but under-resourced business owners with these critical resources was the goal of Greater Toledo Community Foundation’s multi-year grants to JumpStart.

ESP provides insights for young companies

JumpStart had its beginnings 20 years ago in Cleveland as a venture to support tech startups in northeast Ohio. Backed by both state and community support — including major grants from the Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) and KeyBank — JumpStart leads the ODOD’s Entrepreneurial Services Provider (ESP) program across Northern Ohio.

Its success with the ESP in Northeast Ohio made it the ideal organization to step into the gap in 2018, when a new leader was sought for northwest Ohio’s ESP, NextTech. Partnering with ProMedica and other organizations, JumpStart opened an office in Toledo and began leading the ESP in Northern Ohio. 

Over time, JumpStart also became highly experienced in serving disconnected entrepreneurs.

“We are not exclusively a minority business accelerator,” explained Amy Haschak, JumpStart’s director of Toledo operations, “but a lot of our work bridges that gap.” She added, “Our mission is to unlock the potential of entrepreneurship to transform entire communities. We find that some communities have more challenges than others — so making sure that everyone has access to resources is a JumpStart priority.”

GTCF and BGC partner for capital, services and connection

An initial Community Funds Impact grant from GTCF provided funds to support JumpStart’s work, including its centerpiece program, the Business Growth Collaborative (BGC). Convened and facilitated by JumpStart, the BGC currently comprises 12 independent nonprofits with a history of well-proven programming for business owners. The collaborative supports entrepreneurs in varying essential ways — including operational and technical support, financing and mentoring.

Addressing a shortage of mentors for disconnected entrepreneurs was a particular focus for the BGC. The GTCF Community Funds Impact grant, which extended over four years and helped to seed the BGC’s mentoring program, was key to attracting skilled participants. The initial outcomes were so successful, GTCF also awarded JumpStart a grant through the Equity and Access Initiative Fund. The additional award provided capital for minority owned businesses and entrepreneurs along with ongoing support for a relationship manager at a BGC member organization who focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion matters for clients.

GTCF’s Vice President of Community Investments, Patrick Johnston, explained: “Connecting area nonprofits for greater efficacy is a major focus of the Foundation. The goal of the BGC was to  bring together existing groups with well-proven track records to help them be more efficient.  It was an ideal fit.”

Amy described the game-changing role of the BGC: “It’s not uncommon for organizations to work alongside each other and make referrals, but then they don’t know what happens after that. The Business Growth Collaborative comes together in a more sophisticated way, with monthly meetings to discuss clients that need assistance and referrals.” The BGC also structures their client support by establishing milestones and tracking their clients’ progress toward those goals.

Education plays a vital role

Structured training is also key to JumpStart’s success model. “We do Value Proposition and Market Validation workshops for very early-stage businesses,” said Amy. “These provide a firm foundation for new entrepreneurs while also identifying business ideas that are not well thought-out or involve entry into an already saturated market.” Other programs available through JumpStart include one-on-one advising and a multi-week “Blueprint” program for start-up planning.

JumpStart clients with established businesses that meet a revenue threshold and other criteria can participate in their Impact program, a 12-week intensive limited to five businesses per cohort. Impact participants meet weekly with two advisors, a JumpStart staff member, and a volunteer from the community. At the end of the program, cohort members do a pitch showcase in front of judges from the community. “The top pitch is awarded $10,000 to support their business; the rest get $2,500,” said Amy, “so they are literally paid to enter the program. These and other JumpStart investments in entrepreneurs pay handsome dividends in terms of area business growth, employment and tax revenues,” she added.

State funding leverages donor dollars

JumpStart’s Communication Director, Vicki McDonald, noted that their funding structure provided even greater opportunity for impact. “Our grant from the state of Ohio has to be matched dollar for dollar,” she said. “So, to receive funds, we must raise the equivalent funds, giving us the unique ability to leverage our financial contributions.”

“We also wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have without our volunteers,” she added. “There are many exciting ways to support area entrepreneurs through JumpStart and make a deep economic impact on the community.”

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