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College Celebrates Local Entrepreneurs

RALEIGH, N.C. (May 3, 2023) – Wake Tech celebrated small-business owners and emerging entrepreneurs who are making the dream of owning a small business a reality.

Wake Tech's Entrepreneurship and Small Business Center hosted its inaugural Bizzy Awards to recognize budding entrepreneurs who have completed the Entrepreneurship for Skilled Trades and Professionals (ESTP) course at Wake Tech and the LaunchWakeCounty program.

The ESTP course teaches early-stage entrepreneurs how to launch a business. LaunchWakeCounty helps support and develop these entrepreneurs with added training and community support. To date, LaunchWakeCounty has graduated nearly 800 small businesses.

The first annual Bizzy Awards recognized LaunchHolly Springs as Program of the Year and Silver Lake Construction as Business of the Year. Lonette Mims, Wake Tech's dean of Occupational Services and chief campus officer of Western Wake Campus, won the Launch Rally Award for her continued support and advocacy of LaunchWakeCounty.

The event also featured Wake Tech's Main Street Entrepreneurs Accelerator Pitch Competition. Three student entrepreneurs presented their business ideas to a panel of judges, while three LaunchWakeCounty graduates pitched their plans to grow their businesses. Each participant walked away a winner. The students received grant money, and the business owners took home cash.

Blaise Dampier, a student at Shaw University, won a $25,000 grant for his business, NMEA Technologies, which creates education software for colleges and universities that he hopes will help increase enrollment. Dampier plans to get a jump start on his plans this summer.

"I am truly grateful to win this funding," Dampier said. "It is an integral piece of our next step, which is to contract developers to work on our mobile application to help better student life."

The top cash prize of $25,000 went to Stephany Flowers. Her bakery, Made with Grace, sells custom cakes and desserts. Flowers is a graduate of LaunchWendell. She plans to use the funds to upgrade equipment and storage facilities and rent out commercial kitchen space to produce more of her desserts from the Dominican culture.

"I am so thrilled and honored to receive this funding," said Flowers. "As a new business, the support means the world! I am so grateful for the Launch program and the community that surrounds it."

Shaw student Devin Versteegen received a $7,500 grant for his business idea, DT Photography. He plans to use the funds to rent photography and cinematography equipment. Wake Tech student Amari Thompson received a $2,500 grant for Mari the Hairologist, a natural hair-care business that Thompson hopes to open in Raleigh.

Amy Bishop, a graduate of LaunchHollySprings, received $7,500 for Sawdust and Clay, a small business that allows artists to buy and sell their creations. Janice Collier won $2,500 for Janice Collier Designs, which sells handmade, organic children's clothing. Collier graduated from LaunchHollySprings.

The pitch competition is the culmination of the Main Street Entrepreneurs Accelerator (MSEA) program, an innovative initiative to help emerging entrepreneurs accelerate their business. Participants complete a series of small-business training sessions on a variety of topics and receive coaching and mentoring to help hone their business skills.

"Wake Tech provides amazing educational programming, and MSEA is the next level! It provides real capital to put that education to work for small businesses within our entrepreneurial ecosystem," said Chris Weeks, director of entrepreneurship at Wake Tech. "Having a battle plan with money to implement it is a proven way of sustaining small businesses, and we are excited to celebrate another year of the MSEA initiative."

The MSEA program is made possible by a private gift from Mike Conlon, the founder and chief executive of Affordable Communities Group LLC, and a grant from Wells Fargo. Conlon, who also is a Wake Tech Foundation board member, has directed more than $1 million to support small-business programs at Wake Tech. He received the Conlon Vanguard Award at the Bizzy Awards ceremony and was recognized for his dedication to helping develop a thriving small-business community in the area.

"I appreciate this honor," said Conlon. "I love entrepreneurship. The judges and I are really impressed with the business plans we saw tonight."

Raven Edwards, who took home $20,000 for her business, Kraven Juice, last year at the first MESA Pitch Competition, says her business has grown more than 100 percent. Edwards, whose business sells specialty juices, served as a coach for many of the students who participated in the MSEA program this year.

The MSEA program is open to student entrepreneurs at Wake Tech, Shaw University and Saint Augustine's University, as well as eligible small-business owners in the community. For more information, visit mainstreet.waketech.edu.

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April 2024

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