SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – This week, five winners of the second round of Advancing Springfield, Missouri’s Commitment to Entrepreneurship, Networking & Diversity (ASCEND) Scholarships were announced by the Downtown Springfield Association and US Bank.
Following the success of the first round of ASCEND grants in June, five additional Black, Indigenous and Colored Small Business (BIPOC) Owned Businesses received $5,000 in grants that will hopefully help secure new resources and empower BIPOC business owners .
“The Downtown Springfield Association is pleased to recognize and support another outstanding group of local entrepreneurs,” said DSA Executive Director Rusty Worley. “The support of the US Bank Foundation has increased opportunities for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) to start and expand businesses in Center City. We look forward to building on this momentum to offer more awards in 2023 leveraging the experiences of our first two rounds of recipients.”
The grants are awarded based on the identified needs of the new businesses and in conjunction with existing resources from the Springfield Finance & Development Corporation, the City of Springfield and other community organizations.
Of the five new minority companies awarded funding, one is a unique hair salon.
Barbershop Plaza Style, just off Glenstone Avenue in south Springfield, is run by Charlten Henderson, who has been a licensed barber for four years and holds a master’s degree in counseling from MSU. He notes that historically, in the Black community, the barbershop has been a safe, nonjudgmental space for men to talk about anything — sports, politics, religion, women, masculinity. But he wants to use his position to disrupt the flow of the conversation. Men are taught to be stoic and strong at all times. Instead of using the time to fill the room with chatter, his alternative is to use it to encourage self-care practices as part of mental health.
Charlten plans to use the ASCEND funds to learn new services and eventually grow his business combining his two chosen areas.
“One of the things I wanted to do was encourage one-on-one dating, so individuals can have these bold conversations,” Henderson explained. “Things they can’t say or probably wouldn’t say in an open shop. Especially in male culture, you don’t always have people who are willing to seek advice. So that’s the middle ground where I can learn some of the things that I wouldn’t understand in a consulting environment.”
The Rickshaw in downtown Springfield is another second-round grantee. The restaurant serves American-style Chinese food and has been around for over three decades, but just changed hands in the last year.
Sakiko Kong, a member of the owning family, said the owners plan to reinvest in their business and perhaps expand in the future to give back to the patrons who have always been so supportive and welcoming.
“Here in Springfield, people are more accepting of new things,” Kong explained. “So I think it’s good for us as a minority to put out some new things that help people understand us better. We are in the process of getting new signage and furniture and this may help with staffing and remodeling. We’re also working on some marketing so we’ll see what we can do. We would like to add another location within five to ten years.”
The other three recipients are:
Lashes by Aja is owned by Aja Starks. She started her business not only because she enjoys making a difference in people’s lives through her confidence, but also to give her three boys a better life. She plans to use the ASCEND grant to buy 3-4 lash beds and the other materials needed for the lash technicians to use. A long-term goal is to buy a building for their business.
Crystal Campbell will own premium footwear and apparel. Hailing from Chicago, she and her children refer to themselves as “sneakerheads.” She’s noticed a shortage of exclusive sneakers and apparel in Springfield, and she wants to eliminate the need to travel out of state to shop for the latest releases. The ASCEND scholarship will enable her to put her plans into action and get her first small business loan.
Snail Art House was founded and initiated by Chloe Thome. She wanted to provide a collaborative creation space for artists who might not otherwise have access to a studio, retail space, and the opportunity to collaborate with other artists. The group values slow art/fashion principles and recycled materials. ASCEND funding will be used to purchase a four color screen printing machine, photographic backdrop, shared ink supplies, retail facilities and a shared computer.
The first round in June awarded approximately $60,000 in ASCEND grants to 10 companies.
“They get the $5,000 to grow their business, but also full service from the E-Factory, the Multicultural Business Association and the Downtown Springfield Association,” Worley said. “Every company has its own needs. They can buy gear, develop branding, or enable themselves to get their first small business loan.”
And why is this grant funding so important?
“Springfield is the most diverse area in southwest Missouri, but we have far too few minority business owners,” Worley replied. “The West-Central neighborhood, which includes downtown, has about 20 percent minority population, but if you look at our small business ownership, less than five percent is a minority. This is an area where we have been looking for growth for quite some time. There are staffing and supply chain shortages as well as inflationary pressures post-pandemic, so this is an opportunity for us to support these burgeoning business owners and provide them with the financial and other resources they need to thrive.”
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