Inner City Capital Connections Program Attracts Local Business Owners

By Michael Waddell

More than 100 local entrepreneurs received mentoring and coaching on Tuesday, Aug. 29, to help them grow their small businesses.

The Inner City Capital Connections program at the FedEx Institute of Technology on the University of Memphis campus returned after first coming to Memphis in August 2014. The ICCC program was developed by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), a nonprofit research and strategy organization.

“This event is important because we are trying to help small businesses to have long-term success, meaning they are able to create good-paying jobs in the community,” said ICIC executive director Hyacinth Vassell. “So this is about not only small business success but also community success and Memphis success.”

After participating in the 2014 ICCC event in Memphis, 27 of the attendees have gone on to create 139 jobs, and on average previous attendees have grown revenue by 184 percent.

"As businesses grow, they will face different challenges than when they were smaller," Vassell said. “Long-term success means they have to continually educate themselves and be thoughtful about the growth of their business.”

Challenges for small businesses include access to capital and growth prohibitors such as not having the right talent in place, the wrong strategy, or deficiencies in sales and marketing or in operations.

Over the past three years, the ICCC program has grown from 180 participating businesses to more than 800.

Regions Bank and FedEx Corp. provided financial backing for the seminar on Tuesday.

“We feel that we have an expertise in helping existing companies realize their full potential and grow at a faster rate for revenue, profits and jobs,” said ICCC CEO Steve Grossman. “Many of these companies will need to be reinvented to grow, so this helps that reinvention process. It gives people ideas to expand their horizons.”

Memphis is one of 10 cities hosting the ICCC program this year, along with Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Dallas, L.A., San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Next year, the program will expand to Atlanta, Baltimore and St. Louis.

“This event is bringing resources to inner-city businesses to help them grow and succeed in the marketplace,” said Jenny Robertson, director of global citizenship at FedEx. “It’s our goal at FedEx to help build small businesses and to help those who are perhaps underrepresented in the business world.”

More than 2,000 people were nominated to attend the seminar by local business chambers, resulting in several hundred applications. The attending businesses were selected based on age of the business, annual company revenues, and readiness of each CEO to participate.

“I’m here today to network and to gain knowledge,” said Carmen Bassett Brown, co-owner of neMarc Professional Services, a temporary staffing agency with 35 employees.

Bassett Brown is a 20-year veteran of IBM who started her own company in 2003.

“I have some goals and would like to see if they are realistic, and I hope to talk to people who may have had some difficulties and now are doing very well,” she said.

Networking is a key component of the program’s intensive 40-hour curriculum, which will culminate with a seminar in New York. Targeted education sessions on Tuesday included topics like strategy, sales and marketing, talent management, small business finance, and access to potential capital sources.

Susan Perkins, a visiting professor at Northwestern University and an associate professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, led an interactive session on how to create and sustain a competitive business advantage.

And an afternoon panel discussion on what equity providers are looking for was moderated by city of Memphis director of Business Diversity and Compliance Joann Massey, with panelists including John Dobbs Jr., founder and president of Dobbs Equity Partners; Spence Wilson Jr., principal of Kemmons Wilson Cos.; Andrew Seamons, CIO for Pittco Management LLC; and Matt Thornton, president and CEO of Butler Snow Advisory Services.

Approximately 20 Regions bankers offered customized business coaching for entrepreneurs from 108 local companies.

“The strength of a coach is that he or she has seen more than just one player,” said Regions Bank West Tennessee area president David May. “That coach takes experiences from a person’s peer small businesses and offers ideas to unlock the keys to taking a business to the next level and build their family’s wealth.”

Grossman said that over the 11-year history of the ICCC program, 71 percent of attending businesses receive capital (debt or equity) within the first year and 80 percent secure it within two years.

“We’re trying to create coaching opportunities that go well beyond just today and the virtual coaching in October,” Grossman said. “The long-term benefit will be the companies being able to call a mentor two or three times per year. I never knew of anybody who was successful in life who didn’t have a coach or a mentor at some point.”