New immigrants, even those who owned businesses in their native countries, face a bewildering array of rules, regulations and customs in trying to launch an enterprise in the United States.
Many plunge ahead without assistance, but they don’t have to do that.
The first event sponsored by Elevate Northland, an organization started by three community leaders to help boost the neighborhood, was a “Business Academy” on Jan. 23 at the Ashland University MBA Center, 1900 E. Dublin-Granville Road.
About two dozen participants, many representing organizations that provide services to immigrant and refugee communities in Northland, heard a presentation from representatives of the Economic Community Development Institute. It focused on ways new and existing business owners can gain access to expertise and capital to help them start or grow their ventures.
Founded in Columbus in 2004, ECDI has offices in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Akron, with plans to expand into northern Kentucky, said Ramona Mills, director of the Women’s Business Center of Ohio.
In spite of the name, Mills said about 30 percent of the participants in the Women’s Business Center program at ECDI are men.
Elevate Northland is the brainchild of Alicia Ward, Northland Community Council president; Jenny Lin Leal, Northland Alliance chairwoman; and Alice Foeller, president of the Northland Area Business Association and secretary for the Northland Community Council.
Foeller said at the Jan. 23 academy that her business is 8 years old so she’s not looking for the kind of help ECDI offers. However, she said, one of the goals of Elevate Northland is to encourage more immigrants to consider starting restaurants that feature their homeland’s fare as a way of making the neighborhood a tourist destination.
Another ECDI program in Columbus is the Food Fort, a fully operational commercial kitchen available for use with a fee by those seeking to enter the food business, either with a catering operation, food truck or restaurant.
“The wealth of knowledge flowing through the Food Fort is unbelievable,” Mills said.
“I felt the Elevate Northland Business Academy got off to a good start with the introductory session,” Leal wrote in assessing the inaugural event. “I was pleased with the turnout of community members and leaders. It seemed like they all learned something new and there is definitely strong interest in having more entrepreneur support.
“What excited me was the possibility of bringing training and other resources into Northland, which is already so small- business-focused, and making them accessible. I look forward to starting classes as well as workshops and more from different organizations.”
Alison Gessner Rooney, an independent contractor and consultant in the nonprofit sector, has been voluntarily working with the Elevate Northland founders “because I am passionate about helping New Americans overcome barriers and connect to meaningful employment,” she wrote in her own assessment of the Jan. 23 academy.
“I consider the exploratory meeting ... a success,” Rooney wrote. “The attendees-stakeholders were all engaged, asked a lot of questions and affirmed that access to small-business training would be of high value. We, Elevate Northland and ECDI, have also identified possible next steps.
“It is exciting to see the momentum around identifying and creating access to key resources along the continuum of economic empowerment, all through collaborative and strategic community partnering.”