Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Diverse Business Accelerator Puts Firms on a Path to Growth

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Diverse Business Accelerator Puts Firms on a Path to Growth

Article excerpt

For Shequana Hughes, the last 12 weeks were about honing her sales pitch. For Kesha Kent, they were about turning her public speaking expertise into a real business, and for Trish Jensen they were about managing growth.

All three women participated in the inaugural cohort of the Diverse Business Accelerator, a program created by the St. Louis Regional Chamber to help women- and minority-owned businesses.

Valerie Patton, a Regional Chamber senior vice president, said the group spent years studying ways to help minority-owned firms grow. After Tom Chulick became chamber president last year, he greenlighted a program patterned after Cincinnati's Minority Business Accelerator, which started in 2003 and now serves 42 firms with 3,500 employees.

Five entrepreneurs gathered at the Chamber on Wednesday to celebrate completion of the St. Louis accelerator's first 12-week program. They ranged from new entrepreneurs like Kent, who recently organized her corporate training and public speaking business as a limited liability company called MrsKeshSpeaks, to experienced business owners.

"For me it was a big deal that the St. Louis Regional Chamber would have an interest in promoting minority- and women-owned businesses," said Kayla Dennis, chief executive of U.S. Essential Supply & Services, which provides heavy equipment maintenance and safety gear. "I'm really convinced that St. Louis can be a place where my business can thrive."

During the 12-week program, the entrepreneurs sat through classes on business basics, met with mentors and had chances to network with Regional Chamber members. Jensen, owner of a MilliCare carpet-cleaning franchise in Chesterfield, got a lead through the Chamber that may lead to a large office-building contract.

Jensen, who has owned the business since 1997, is expanding her territory to Peoria and Chicago. "My biggest takeaway was the confidence I needed to be able to refine my growth plan," she said. …

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