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News: Building Business Works for Some in Over-the-Rhine, Downtown and West End

By Kris Royer Henninger · March 11th, 1999 · News
  Janice Jackson owns Mecca�s Calling in Over-the-Rhine.
Jymi Bolden

Janice Jackson owns Mecca�s Calling in Over-the-Rhine.

Janice Jackson is the owner of Mecca's Calling, a clothing store in Over-the-Rhine. An African-American woman who also is a Muslim, Jackson said she thought there was a market in Over-the-Rhine for African, Indian and Islamic clothing, so she opened her store on the corner of Elder and Vine streets in February 1998.

In addition to clothing she also sells accessories, literature and artifacts.

After opening the store, she realized she needed some help with the direction of her business so she enrolled in the Build Your Own Business (BYOB) program, a series of classes and ongoing support for current or aspiring business owners, which is sponsored by the University of Cincinnati (UC), city and state economic development departments and community organizations.

Jackson said the BYOB course was especially helpful in teaching her how to develop a business plan, which she can change as the needs and circumstances of her business change.

"It helped me with the direction of my business," she said.

After completing the program Jackson got a loan that she used to purchase a computer, advertising, increase her inventory and remodel part of her store.

Part of the reason for purchasing the computer was that she wants to sell her products on the Internet as well.

Residents of Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the West End -- or those, like Jackson, who want to open "micro-enterprises" there -- can learn about business ownership and get loans through BYOB, said Kenneth Green, BYOB program manager.

Designed to encourage economic development in these neighborhoods, BYOB teaches participants many areas of business ownership including sales and marketing, developing a business plan, research, budgeting, taxes, record-keeping and licensing.

The 10-week course costs $30.

On March 26, BYOB will celebrate the completion of its first year with a party, alumni networking opportunity and graduation ceremony for its latest class of students.

Green said micro-enterprises are different from small businesses because they typically only employ between one and five people with the owner being one of those employees.

Like Jackson, about half of the BYOB participants have some business experience before entering the program, Green said, but need some direction or additional training to make their business successful.

And those without experience usually have an idea, but need help turning that idea into a viable business, he said.

"If people will believe in them, they are capable of realizing their dreams," Green said.

Participants cannot have an annual income greater than $51,000, a limit set by the state of Ohio, Green said. Other than that restriction, he said BYOB would work with people without regard to their background or level of knowledge about business ownership.

"We're a strange amalgamation of social service and business," he said.

If someone has an interest in business ownership but needs help managing his or her personal finances, for example, Green said he refers them to credit counseling first to get a basic understanding of money matters.

"We make it user-friendly," he said.

Those who complete the course can then apply for loans of up to $5,000 from the non-profit SmartMoney Community Services and are assigned to an experienced entrepreneur who serves as a business coach.

Getting help from a business coach was the best part for Jackson.

"The great thing about the program is that I have a business coach I can call at any time (and) bounce ideas off of him," she said.

Although officially begun last year, BYOB has its roots in a 1997 study done by UC associate professor of planning Johanna Looye, said Mary Reilly, UC associate public information officer. Looye's survey of entrepreneurial assets in Over-the-Rhine, done at the request of the city of Cincinnati's Economic Development Department and the Cincinnati Coalition for Microenterprise Opportunities, then led to the development of the BYOB curriculum, Reilly said.

In addition to those organizations, SmartMoney Community Services and the Ohio Department of Economic Development also are sponsors of the program.

Jackson said she was so enthusiastic about the BYOB program that she now works as the development manager for SmartMoney Community Services, in addition to owning her own business.

"I think it's an excellent program," she said. "Anybody can start a business, but are you doing it the right way?" ©



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