A region that hustles: Inaugural class of HustleSBE graduates from bootcamp


The South Bend-Elkhart Regional Partnership (SBERP) recently concluded its inaugural bootcamp aimed toward providing support and assistance to minority and women entrepreneurs across the five-county region.

HustleSBE is a six-session program dedicated to bringing resources on topics including capital, certifications, financial management, and human resources to minority- and women-owned businesses. Participants gathered for interactive learning but were also part of an online community full of real-time feedback and additional resources.

Considering minority-owned businesses make up more than half of the two million new businesses started in the U.S. over the past decade, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, HustleSBE fills a real need in the region.

Despite the growing number of women-and minority-owned businesses, a disparity still exists. Minority business ownership represents just 18 percent of the population despite the fact that minorities make up 32 percent of the population. That’s why the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship lists technical assistance for these businesses as a top priority.

The technical assistance and support network was what helped Rhonda Gipson-Willis, a HustleSBE graduate.

“Coming into this program is what allowed me to build my business back up in a way that solidified the infrastructure,” she said during a recent graduation celebration. “It helped me to realize the things that I didn’t know I didn’t know. The things I was afraid to go into.”

Willis, a therapeutic life coach, found the experience valuable to her growth.

“It is so necessary, it is so needed, and it is so applicable,” she said. “We need this space to be able to come together and get connections we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”

Celena Green, the founder of FoundRE, who facilitated the six-session series, agreed with Willis about the value of the experience.

“There is research that shows two things; first, being an entrepreneur is isolating, and second, one of the things that make or breaks a business leader is their network,” Green said.

Green said the program gave each business owner space to think about strategy.

“It helps (them) bounce ideas off each other, so they’re not all in their heads,” she said. “These sessions were one of the times when they would think strategically about their businesses and when they would rise above the day-to-day urgency of things like customer requests.”

Greene was pleased to learn that the participants decided to continue to meet monthly.

“It is very smart that they are asking to meet and continue to support each other,” she said.

For participants, HustleSBE gave them the community, resources, and training they needed.

Laquisha Jackson, the owner of Soulful Kitchen, LLC., found a lot of value in a session about profit.

“When I started my business before this class, I wasn’t saving any money. I was just working, getting paid, and spending the money,” she said. “I really didn’t know how to grow my business. This speaker came in with a couple of different business models on what to put aside. I’m implementing that into my business, and it feels great.”

Regina Emberton, president and CEO of the South Bend-Elkhart Regional Partnership, said she is looking forward to seeing what the entrepreneurs will bring to the region.

“These entrepreneurs are growing their businesses, creating good jobs, and improving the vibrancy and quality of life in our communities,” Emberton said. “We are proud to be part of a region that Hustles!”

Jackson also graduated from the Spark Business Accelerator for Women and said HustleSBE was a great next step to really develop her business in a strategic manner.

“When I entered Spark, I didn’t know how to have a business. I didn’t know what a business plan was; I only knew how to cook. I was new to the game, and everything I learned in (Spark) was beneficial because I was starting from scratch,” she said. “Now, with HustleSBE, I’m a little bit seasoned, I’m a little bit more advanced in the business world. HustleSBE was once a month, which gave me the time to work in my business and think about applying what I learned in my business. I appreciated the time to think about and practice what I heard at HustleSBE.”

Applications for the next cohort, HustleSBE Sprint, are open until May 1, 2020. HustleSBE Sprint will run for six weeks, Tuesday evenings, beginning June 16, 2020. Interested parties should visit HustleSBE.org. Partial scholarships are available for participants accepted into the program. (Total fee: $750. Cost with partial scholarship: $50.)