Business

Cedar Rapids business development program will focus on 'non-traditional entrepreneurs'

GoDaddy and Jane Boyd Community House launched their initiative Tuesday

Antwan Hodges (left) and Arnold Smith stand outside the Paul Engle Center in Cedar Rapids Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Hodges and Smith are organizing a local chapter of NFL Flag, a youth flag football organization. (Matthew Patane/The Gazette)
Antwan Hodges (left) and Arnold Smith stand outside the Paul Engle Center in Cedar Rapids Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Hodges and Smith are organizing a local chapter of NFL Flag, a youth flag football organization. (Matthew Patane/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A new Wellington Heights-based business development initiative will focus on “breaking down barriers” for Cedar Rapids’ non-traditional entrepreneurs, organizers said Tuesday.

Representatives for GoDaddy and the Jane Boyd Community House officially rolled out the Cedar Rapids Entrepreneurial Program, billing it as the city’s first neighborhood start-up accelerator. CREP will operate out of the Paul Engle Center, 1600 Fourth Ave. SE, in the Wellington Heights neighborhood.

It will focus on individuals with business ideas from the neighborhood and surrounding communities.

“Why Wellington Heights? Because Wellington Heights is in need of this,” Program Coordinator Selinya Carew said.

CREP will offer business development workshops and networking opportunities. It also will provide child care and transportation, the lack of which organizers said can bar prospective founders from taking the leap.

“This program will provide our non-traditional entrepreneurs and under-resourced communities with the capital, with the network, with the social and digital media presence, and also with the ability to not only start, but to actually grow” their businesses, said Dorice Ramsey, executive director of Jane Boyd. a not-for-profit community service organization.

CREP will run two, five-month cohorts starting May 2017 and November 2017. Organizers said they plan to recruit 50 entrepreneurs during that time, including 30 “budding” entrepreneurs and 20 “established” ones.

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The first two entrepreneurs accepted into CREP both said Tuesday they want to be successful to show children and others interested in starting a company that they can do it as well.

“When we have small children thinking about their opportunities in life ... if there is an example for them of someone who is a high achiever and they can relate to that person and they look like them and they have that connection, they’re more likely to believe they can accomplish things themselves,” Sofia Mehaffey, 32, said.

Mehaffey, the director of community health and nutrition programs for Horizons, said she wants to develop a healthy food product as an alternative to convenient, fast food.

“Convenience does not have to be unhealthy,” she said.

Arnold Smith and Antwan Hodges have started a local chapter of NFL Flag, a youth flag football league, to get children involved in a sport when they may otherwise run into trouble.

“We want to get kids empowering kids,” Smith, 29, said. “It’s a summer league, and that’s the most time kids get in trouble.”

His bigger barriers, which he hopes CREP can help with, have been with networking and funding, he said.

Officials of GoDaddy and Jane Boyd first announced their collaboration in late March. The internet domain hosting company will provide funding and other support for the program, while Jane Boyd and its staff run the day-to-day operations.

“Our goal is to level the playing field so that anyone who wants to start a small business has the opportunity to do so,” said Stacy Bennett, corporate social responsibility lead for GoDaddy.

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While Cedar Rapids already has start-up development programs, such as the Iowa Startup Accelerator, Ramsey said CREP does not want to compete.

“We’re not trying to duplicate. We’re coming on as an on-ramp to what they’re doing,” Ramsey said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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