A coffee connoisseur may tell you the ideal brew comes from high-quality, fresh-roasted beans, ground mere moments before meeting ultra-pure, steaming-hot water.
A coffee artist may tell you instant coffee is ideal for painting.
Teresa Abboud is both.
“I come from Lebanon; I’ve been here seven years,” said Abboud, an artist based in Atlanta. “After I became a mom, I wanted to have my own business. I always worked with other people doing their illustrations.”
Her goals were to commission her own artwork – and reflect her own heritage.
“That’s why I chose coffee as a theme because I saw that, in every memory I have, if it’s with my mom or my friends or anywhere I went in Lebanon, there was coffee involved,” she explained. “In Lebanon, coffee is almost everywhere. In every gathering, even funerals and weddings, it’s there. So I miss that, and that’s why I chose coffee, not just because I love coffee, but I also love the gathering around it.”
And when you add a couple drops of hot water to a little instant coffee, it makes a nice paint, she said – a fragrant mixture she applies to canvas, along with acrylics and watercolors, to produce artwork that clients all over Atlanta, and beyond, are buying.
Abboud’s business, called Teresa Afternoon, is one of many that are poised to grow following training from a unique program at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. It’s called Start:ME, short for Start:Micro-Enterprise. It offers business know-how, mentorship and early-stage capital.
The Regions Foundation, a nonprofit initiative of Regions Bank that supports community investments, is one of Start:ME’s signature supporters. Support from the Foundation and others means Start:ME is tuition-free for Abboud and nearly 50 other entrepreneurs who’ve completed the 14-week program this year.
Consider the value created for these three companies.
Teresa Afternoon – Artwork Inspired by Coffee
Coffee isn’t just key to Teresa Abboud’s artwork. It’s how she got connected with Start:ME. After having displays at art exhibits, she got the chance to place artwork in coffee shops, including one in Clarkston, one of Start:ME’s focus areas for business growth.
Before long, she learned about Start:ME. Her art represented not only peaceful slices of life; it showed the potential to serve as the basis of a healthy business. She applied to Start:ME and was accepted. The results exceeded her expectations.
“I learned there is a community of small businesses, and I am part of it,” Abboud said. “I felt that I am not just a number. I felt like I’m an essential element. This is something I did not feel before. They made me feel that every one of us is important to make a better Atlanta.”
She also learned about the financial elements of success.
“I’m an artist, and I’m not very good at math and finances, but I had the chance to learn from them how to work my finances in an easy way,” she added. “They gave me the core of how to establish a business like a pro. The mentors were amazing at how they gave their time to us.”
Mentorship continues, even after the program concludes. Abboud’s art sales are complemented by virtual workshops, where she helps people unlock their own artistic abilities – and use paints that are often made with ingredients found around the house.
But coffee remains at the core.
“Coffee is very international. It’s one of the things that unites us,” Abboud explained. “I always dreamed of doing something that unites people together and makes this earth a happier place. I think I did it with coffee, and I’m happy this vision is growing.”
WorshApp – A Place for All Faith
“We wanted to create a space where people can come and find the faith that moves or motivates them, whatever it is,” said Jocelyn Johnson, co-founder and co-owner of WorshApp, a digital tool for helping people find faith-based events, groups and more.
“The reason we created this space was out of need,” she explained, recalling a time when she felt inspired by a worship service and wanted to connect with other members of the faith community – but she couldn’t find a comprehensive, faith-focused resource that shared opportunities for people to come together.
So she and her business partner, Andric Copeland Sr., filled the void. Start:ME helped them develop a sustainable business plan.
“There are so many aspects of business that never even occurred to us as we were starting WorshApp,” Johnson said. “The one thing I was doing before Start:ME was saying, ‘Oh, I’m sure I can figure it out.’ But you don’t have to do that. There are programs out there like Start:ME that want to help. Go get the help.”
WorshApp never charges fees for posting events or information. Rather, revenue comes from a one-time, 99-cent download charge. In-app advertising is on the horizon. Initial results are promising, even if COVID-19 did threaten the business just days after it launched.
“I felt myself unraveling as COVID-19 geared up,” Johnson said. “Everything in the news was about how life was going to change and small businesses were going out of business. Start:ME was there the whole time supporting us. My mentors were amazing, and every time we spoke, they had ideas on how I could pivot or adapt.”
Running a business is a process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Johnson found that, with Start:ME, there’s a community of advocates pulling for her success.
“Right now, we mainly focus on Atlanta and Georgia as a whole, but ultimately, our intention is to be national and then global,” Johnson said. “I’m particularly grateful for the Start:ME mentors who provided the guidance and confidence I needed to be okay with starting small. Because of them, WorshApp has room to grow into what our customers need it to be.”
The Neighborhood Sprouts: Growing Good Works
“My vision for the Neighborhood Sprouts came to me after I’d become a mother, and my children’s extracurricular activities were focused on sports or the Scouts,” said Jan O’Shaughnessy. “I looked for associations around town where my kids could participate – one with boys and girls and different age groups – and I wasn’t finding anything like that, so I started developing it in my head.”
She asked other parents if they would be interested in a group focused on teaching children about community service and social responsibility.
“And I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I would sign up immediately,’” O’Shaughnessy recalled. “It’s hard with kids because they love instant gratification. I try to make a space where they can get away from that and focus on serving and helping others. We need a world that’s working a little bit more together.”
Her top takeaway from Start:ME was how detailed her business plan became.
“You’re working through the financials of it, and because Start:ME is working with me on my own business, I’m able to see the future and set attainable goals,” O’Shaughnessy said. “I think if I had not gone through the program, I would still be in this position of trying to navigate the process but not actually knowing the process.”
Parents pay a small fee for children to participate in a season’s worth of activities. Given the challenges presented by COVID-19, O’Shaughnessy is taking deep dive into the digital side of community support.
“Start:ME guided me and said, ‘You can grow yourself by using virtual tools,’” she said. “I really feel like this might bring us to a larger audience.”
It’s that sentiment from Jan O’Shaughnessy – moving forward, even in challenging times – that defines Start:ME alumni.
“Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a mentor or a partner, we have a lot of people coming together who are committed to collective success,” said Brian Goebel, program director for Start:ME. “It’s a true sense of community where people are co-investing in each other.”
And that sense of community benefits physical communities – namely Clarkston, East Lake and Southside Atlanta – where businesses served by Start:ME are based.
“We felt it was really important to meet entrepreneurs where they are – very talented people who may not have had as much access to entrepreneurial support,” Goebel said. “Small businesses and entrepreneurship are important not just economically but also socially.”
Marta Self, executive director of the Regions Foundation, said supporting Start:ME is part of Regions’ broader commitment to inclusive prosperity.
“Start:ME helps people overcome barriers to success,” she said. “It levels the playing field. It empowers people to build successful companies, and that creates more successful communities.”
A financial grant from the Regions Foundation will support Start:ME’s next class of entrepreneurs, too.
“Entrepreneurs like Teresa, Jocelyn and Jan are why we’re proud to support Start:ME,” Self concluded. “We know there are many more people we can reach in the year to come.”
Learn more about the Regions Foundation’s support of Start:ME – and the entrepreneurs served by the program – at this link.
About Regions Foundation
Regions Foundation supports community investments that positively impact the communities served by Regions Bank. The Foundation engages in a grantmaking program focused on priorities including economic and community development; education and workforce readiness; and financial wellness. The Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation funded primarily through contributions from Regions Bank.