Awards & Events

WE Launch Course Graduates 11 Entrepreneurs

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For the 11 women in this class of the WE Launch program at the Youngstown Business Incubator, the benefit of the program wasn’t just the grants awarded upon completion.

It wasn’t even necessarily the business advice and education on all aspects of running a startup, from insurance to accounting to marketing – though that certainly was helpful.

One of the best benefits, many of the women entrepreneurs said at the graduation ceremony, was having the ability to learn alongside someone else and be able to learn from each other.

“The main thing I’m taking away is the networking, the communication, the ability to reach out and ask somebody about something you don’t know,” said Evon Ashby, founder of Carriage House Builders. “I’m not the smartest in the room, but being able to ask questions and make connections … has enhanced everything I’m trying to do.”

While she brings 20-plus years of front-office construction experience to her startup, learning the ins and outs of business is crucial to getting her company off the ground.

“I would have continued to stumble,” she said, imagining where she’d be had she not signed up for WE Launch. “I had no idea there was financing available, that there are legal things I hadn’t thought of, that I needed market research. I would have been three steps back.”

Even for more experienced entrepreneurs, the course provides valuable information. Before she brought her dog treat company, Barktastic K9 Cupboard, to WE Launch, Chrissy King had spent two years researching ingredients and techniques. She also had the experience of running her own business. Without hestiation, she said, she would recommend the program to a woman looking to start a business, regardless of experience.

“I would say do it,” King said. “I’ve learned a lot and it was a great experience. … We’ve worked together and all taught each other a lot of things.”

At the graduation ceremony, all 10 startups gave brief pitches to a panel of judges and answered questions about their business plans. The judges’ scores were then added to those of YBI staff who reviewed the business plans at the end of the nine-week course. The highest scoring company was awarded $5,000, with the second place company winning $1,000.

Taking home the top prize were Christina Frohman and Audra Horton, the cofounders of Too Hot Mamas, a canned pepper company. Their products are available in 30 stores, in addition to their storefront in Hubbard and the online store. Right now, their production is limited to using a single gallon pot to steam peppers. With that in mind, Frohman knew from the start what the winnings would go toward.

“Steam. Kettle,” she said with a laugh. “I will be able to make a week’s worth of product in about six hours. Times that by five and I am stockpiling. The warehouse will be full and ready to go for stores.”

Prior to signing up for WE Launch, she said she had never heard of it or the YBI’s Women in Entrepreneurship, which runs the course. But registering turned out to be a great decision, even when excluding the prize money.

“It was so great and I met so many fantastic women here,” Frohman said.

In addition to Ashby, King, Frohman and Horton, the graduating class included Kamelia Alexander, Jumpstart Hair Treatz; TaRee Avery, Dough House Cookies; Rachel Conner, Next Education; Hannah Ferguson. The Xperience Winery and Lounge; Joncquil Hope, Hope Community Services; Torkwase Johnson, Home Residential Assisted Living Facilities; and Ra’Cole Taltoan, Rockbrook Business Services.

And ultimately, said Women in Entrepreneurship Director Stephanie Gilchrist, getting women together to work out their business plans, to bounce ideas off each other and to work together is the whole point of the program.

“They all bond and it becomes a village of women supporting each other,” she says. “Sometimes they forget there’s a competition where they’re competing against each other for $5,000. At some point, it’s not just about them but the success of women in our community as a whole.”

Pictured: In the third graduating class of the Women in Entrepreneurship WE Launch course are Chrissy King, Torkwase Johnson, Rachel Conner, Taree Avery, Joncquil Hope, Christina Frohman, Ra’Cole Taltoan, Kamelia Alexander, Evon Ashby and Hannah Ferguson.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.