Entrepreneurs utilize free workshops to improve business development


Photo by Ryan Haggerty
Nicole White talks to the Feb. 22 group about the moment she knew she wanted to start her business.

By Alyse Horn

For the first time, Anne George felt like she had a safe place where she could discuss concerns and ideas regarding her business.

George is the founder of iXMessage, an app designed to create a trusted environment for tween girls to socialize.

She was one of several participants who attended Ignite Northside’s second installment of business and project development workshops, where she is learning how to optimize her business and clientele relationship.

“I think the big issue with anyone’s project is listening and being able to talk about what we’re doing and putting it into context, and be able to say why this product is different and better,” George said. “Why is what we’re doing important? What are our differentiators and the value to potential customers? That’s what this version [of Ignite NS] is doing. It’s helping us nail that down.”

The workshop took place on Wednesday, February 22 at The Pittsburgh Project, 2801 N. Charles St., and was the first for New Sun Risings Ignite Northside 2.0 program in partnership with The Buhl Foundation. Led by Project Manager and Northsider Ebony McQueen-Harris and Project Assistant Jamie Johnson, this second series of workshops focuses on creating strong leaders with a deeper connection to the needs of their clients and community.

During the Feb. 22 event, McQueen-Harris and Johnson discussed the importance of connecting with clientele, specifically empathy and “placing yourself in someone else’s shoes” to understand the need of the client, McQueen-Harris said.

“Take an active role in listening, and focus on hearing what people’s needs are,” McQueen-Harris said. “Let empathy resonate with your own story.”

As the owner of Café on the Corner in Marshall-Shadeland, Michael Blackwell said he was tired of seeing his neighborhood portrayed negatively in the media and he saw a need in his community to focus on at-risk youth, thus creating a nonprofit with his wife called Kitchen of Grace.

Blackwell has over 30 years of experience in restaurant management, and he sees his nonprofit impacting youth in the community by “equipping our young folks using hospitality components” and using Café on the Corner “as the conduit to other life skills [that can be taught through] the service industry.”

Employees of the restaurant industry are tested every day by the people they serve, and Blackwell said this gives individuals the chance to maintain composure in difficult situations regardless of who they are serving.

“Ignite Northside is giving me an avenue to open and broaden my eyes and look at the little picture as well as the larger picture,” Blackwell said. “It is a motivating factor to remind myself of why I am creating this nonprofit and teaching these kids about hospitality.”

The first two workshops focus on empathy, which is one of the five leadership components that will be developed on over the 10-month period. Future workshops explore mindfulness, resiliency, empowerment and adaptability. Participants also benefit from weekly one-on-one entrepreneurial training.

The next Ignite Northside opportunity on Wednesday, March 15 is a peer networking event that will focus on helping Igniters and non-Igniter businesses and community leaders connect and grow in a light and loose networking atmosphere. It will take place at 6 p.m. at The Pittsburgh Project. For more details and to register for the event, click here.

For more information on the workshops and how to get involved, visit www.newsunrising.org/ignite-northside or email ebony@www.newsunrising.org.

Ignite Northside is an initiative by New Sun Rising  in partnership with The Buhl Foundation and One Northside, working together to help neighborhoods gain control of their narratives.

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