Some have thrived. Many have struggled. All were eager to learn.
For the 107 entrepreneurs attending the Houston Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) virtual program in late March, this tuition-free, Harvard-level business training came at an especially welcome time after a year of navigating the unexpected.
“The greatest challenges small businesses have faced during the pandemic are access to capital, including forgivable loans and grants, as well as the need for one-on-one coaching and mentoring,” said Steve Grossman, CEO of the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), the organization that conducts ICCC. “In the past year, we’ve significantly modified our curriculum and dramatically expanded coaching to address the pressing and evolving needs of our entrepreneurs.”
Regions Bank and Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office collaborated to bring ICCC to Houston for the first time in the program’s 16-year existence. Training was presented in English and Spanish. Two-thirds of participating businesses were women-owned. Nearly 80% were minority-owned. Greater Houston ranks as the nation’s most diverse city, and Regions Bank has been building its presence in the market over the last several years.
Investing in ICCC is an investment in Houston’s economic future.
John Stacy, market executive for Regions Bank in Houston
Recruiting ICCC to Houston is a reflection of Regions’ commitment to inclusive prosperity. ICCC specifically works to connect businesses in underserved areas with training and tools to create long-term success. Emerging stronger after the pandemic was a key driver in sponsoring the program as well.
“Investing in ICCC is an investment in Houston’s economic future,” said John Stacy, market executive for Regions Bank in Houston. “Many small businesses experienced a sizable downturn in revenue essentially overnight. Bringing together this group of entrepreneurs to hear from some of the country’s top business experts and to exchange best practices with each other is an initiative Regions is proud to support.”
ICCC alumni consider the program so valuable that it’s common for them to attend more than once, as well as nominate fellow small-business owners to participate. Janice Jucker, co-owner of Three Brothers Bakery and a two-time ICCC graduate, is a prime example. She nominated 74 businesses for the Houston sessions.
“ICCC has helped me tremendously in understanding the financials of business,” said Jucker. “I’ve learned the different modes of funding our business needs and what venture capitalists look for when evaluating companies. Whether you go that route or not, it’s important to understand the concepts.”
And since ICCC keeps course material timely and relevant, it’s worth it for entrepreneurs like Jucker to repeat the course. Tuition-free, as always.
“You always learn something new,” Jucker said. “The professors can be different, the curriculum can be different, but the quality of teaching is consistently excellent. That’s why I like to attend. As small-business owners, we need to keep learning. ICCC funders like Regions allow us to do that.”
In addition to course presentations, the Houston workshop included virtual networking and a resource panel offering insights on capital, loans, credit and more. Chad Cargile, commercial banking leader for Regions in Houston, served as a panelist. Twenty bank associates served as business coaches.
Here are three key takeaways:
- Be nimble.
“83% of all successful businesses have pivoted at least once,” said Steven Rogers, retired Harvard Business School Professor and current ICCC presenter. “Some have completely changed direction. Pivoting is just a natural part of the evolution of your business. And pivoting is not just something Blue Chip companies are doing.”
- Be focused and forward-thinking.
“On average, senior leaders spend 61% of their time solving problems,” said Dobbin Bookman, director of Harvard Business School’s global Owner/President Management (OPM) program and ICCC presenter.Bookman encouraged participants to remain focused on their most valuable resource – their human capital – as well as their vision, mission and values. In these uncertain times, Bookman also advised entrepreneurs to “replace reactivity with flexibility and creativity” in their approach to problem-solving for better results.
- Be positive.
While the past year has been difficult, Bookman notes there are still positives to be gained from it, like finding new ways to do business that may last beyond the pandemic.
“Don’t discount, or worse, miss the silver linings,” he concluded.
Beyond the main conference in any given city, ICCC is also noteworthy for what takes place afterward. Business coaches and ICCC personnel remain available to entrepreneurs long after the workshops end. Follow-up opportunities abound, including a national conference that typically draws 1,000 entrepreneurs from across the country.
Regions plans to build on its years-long ICCC collaboration with more learning opportunities in the future. The reasons are simple. It builds inclusive prosperity. It supports economic opportunities for small-business owners. And – it simply works.
To learn more, visit www.iccapitalconnections.org.