For Immanuel Ivey, all roads led to the Edna Martin Christian Center. Even those before he was born.
“My mom participated in Edna Martin’s programs when she was a child,” he said. “And I grew up in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood, which is now part of Edna Martin,” recalling the nonprofit’s 2013 move to 37 Place, a former elementary school on Indianapolis’ near northside.
Today, Ivey serves as Edna Martin’s senior director of entrepreneurship and workforce development, a role allowing him to combine his business and community passions.
It’s been 25-plus years in the making.
“I’ve been working since I was 5 years old,” recalled Ivey. “I began by helping with my father’s business.”
Ivey now helps other small-business owners through Edna Martin’s Micro-Enterprise Program. Regions Bank has invested $5,000 in the workforce development initiative, purchasing laptops and accounting software for program participants. The bank also sponsors Edna Martin’s micro-enterprise pitch contest where a small-business owner from each class receives funding to help advance their company.
For pitch participants, it’s about more than money. It’s about a sense of pride.
“Edna Martin’s Incubator meets entrepreneurs where they are and provides resources propelling them to the next level of success,” said Nicole Woodson, community development manager for Regions Bank in Indiana and a recent micro-enterprise contest volunteer judge. “This is a community partnership not only elevating underserved businesses, it’s elevating an entire community.”
But before the entrepreneurial pitches are nervously made, in-depth training occurs.
The eight-week class covers registering a company, developing a business plan, exploring financing options and more. One-on-one coaching occurs, all at no cost to participants.
Bank associates also present personal financial education sessions.
For entrepreneur Lamont Williams, Ivey’s guidance has been both life-affirming and life-changing.
“Mr. Ivey is phenomenal,” said Williams, owner of Before & After Construction LLC, a home remodeling business. “I didn’t have the business tools, but he pointed me in the right direction. Mr. Ivey’s not just teaching a class, he’s teaching a way of living.”
Jamie Scott is another entrepreneur grateful to Ivey. By day, Scott works as a program director at Edna Martin; but in March of 2020, she launched SNAPS by Jamie LLC, a personalized gift and apparel company.
“People think I’m crazy,” laughed Scott, reflecting on the decision to proceed with her small business at the outset of COVID-19. “There were a couple of times I questioned it, but I pushed on.”
Scott wasn’t alone. Ivey was committed to ensuring participants learned from and leaned on each other throughout the pandemic rollercoaster, even as classes transitioned to a virtual format.
“In the course, we help build each other up,” said Scott. “Everybody was coming from such a different place, but they all provided great tips and feedback.”
The interactive format also offers Ivey an opportunity to listen and learn from his students.
“I let participants know upfront I don’t know everything,” said Ivey. “Seeing each class start to gel brings me so much joy. They’re sharing ideas in the online chat, connecting with me, connecting with each other. They then begin referring and promoting among each other. It’s mind-blowing to see it evolve.”
Another topic Ivey ensures is on the table for discussion? Failure.
“I encourage participants to embrace failure by learning, improving and trying again,” said Ivey. “Entrepreneurship is hard work, and many have failed – but many didn’t give up. I also share that research is key. They have to know about their industry, target market and competition. A lot of entrepreneurs fail because of a lack of research.”
Ivey has also connected participants with entrepreneurs outside the program. Edna Martin hosted several “SWOT this COVID-19” town halls encouraging small-business owners to discuss their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats due to the coronavirus.
“The series offered our entrepreneurs great knowledge, wisdom and hope,” said Ivey.
For participants like Williams and Scott, the program has no doubt provided practical training. But Ivey is imparting something more valuable: confidence.
“Mr. Ivey pushes you to excellence, to do great,” said Williams. “He encourages you to concentrate on your business plan. To never give up. You can’t help but grow through the program – mentally, emotionally, spiritually.”
It gives people hope, it gives people drive. It’s creating a better life.
Williams was so inspired that he set up a home office in a spare bedroom and has picked up a new hobby.
“I’m reading all the time, that’s how much Mr. Ivey has moved me,” he said. “He really gave me the drive and hunger for this. I feel like I can conquer the world.”
Scott also continues pushing on – in business and life. That included buying a home along with starting her company last year. Regions provided support as her bank.
“I decided in 2020 I was going all in,” she said. “It’s only been a year, but it’s been a pandemic year.”
Williams, also a bank customer, is grateful that companies like Regions support Edna Martin.
“This program is giving back something that’s needed,” he shared. “It gives people hope, it gives people drive. It’s creating a better life.”
Scott added, “Regions cares about the communities they sit in. They’re offering a hand up instead of a handout. They’re connecting a community that sometimes goes without.”
Making the road ahead a smoother one for entrepreneurs in the neighborhood where Immanuel Ivey’s ties remain deep.
The Thrill of Victory
Hours of preparation came down to just a three-minute pitch. Five entrepreneurs each made their case at the Edna Martin micro-enterprise pitch contest March 31.
The winner? Jamie Scott.
“I was shocked,” said Scott. “I thought all of the other pitches were great. When I heard them say ‘SNAPS by Jamie,’ it took at least a few seconds for it to register that they were talking about me!”
Scott knows exactly what she’ll do with the award provided by Regions Bank.
“This $500 is just the push I need to move to the next steps of my business,” she said. “I’ll be launching my website; purchasing a larger heat press to allow for quicker completion time of my personalized apparel; and purchasing shirts and vinyl to ensure that I have inventory on hand to promote and sell.”