YBI Launch Program Holds ‘Pitch Night’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Ashlyn Symone for the last three years has self-funded her small business, Signatures By Symone, a multifaceted marketing and apparel company housed at the Youngstown Business Incubator.

She’s since come a long way. Now, Symone is looking to take her business to the next level.

“We’ve already grown the T-shirt and apparel side of the business. So our next step is to grow the print division,” she said.

She’s also pressed for office space at the YBI and plans to expand her presence in the incubator.

“I just don’t have any more space for production,” she said. “Which is a good thing – it means we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Signatures By Symone provides marketing strategy, graphic design, printing and apparel services and was looking for extra capital to help fund the company’s future.

On Sept. 6, Symone found her funding.

Symone was awarded $5,000 from Chase Bank after delivering a short presentation to a panel of judges as part of “Pitch Night” – the capstone event of a five-week Launch Program through the Minority Business Assistance Center at the YBI.

“This means a lot for my small business,” Symone said. “This is going to help me to grow and actually get some equipment that I need to bring all our services in-house.”

Symone was among a class of 24 participants made up of mostly women and minority entrepreneurs who took part in the MBAC Launch program.

During the final class meeting, 15 opted to make 90-second pitches to a panel of four judges and compete for the $5,000.

The class was the second of three offered in the Launch series, according to Tanisha Wheeler, MBAC regional director. “This class centered around financial projections. We talked about procurement. We had guest speakers every week,” she said.

Typically, Wheeler would teach the class on her own but opted to bring in community members to share areas of expertise and business acumen.

“To join this class, you had to be in business for at least three years,” Wheeler said. “So, you’re not quite a startup, but at the stage where you’re creating new streams of marketing and additional revenue.”

This was the largest class that Wheeler has seen come through the program, she says.

Entrepreneurs from diverse interests and businesses made presentations during the pitch event, held at Brite Energy Innovators in Warren.

Loretta Lane wants to develop an EV charging station at a former gas station owned by her father and uncle.

These businesses included cleaning services, dessert and bakery creations, a laundry company, marketing and promotional firms, apparel manufacturers, an electronics installation and support service, a mobile fingerprinting business, a property management company, and a proposal to develop an electric-vehicle charging hub in a vacant building in Youngstown where a gas station once stood.

“This is a viable option for Youngstown,” said Loretta Lane, who envisions an EV charging station at 406 W. Rayen Ave., a building where her father and uncle ran a full-service gas station during the 1970s.  “That’s my vision. That’s my goal,” she said.

Paige Collins, owner of All Spruced Up Cleaning Co., said she started her business with a vacuum and a mop 21/2 years ago.  The company now has 10 employees and demand for her services is growing rapidly. “Our first year in business, we did about $14,000 in sales,” she said. “We’re on track to hit $300,000 this year.”

Several of the participants began their companies as small side efforts and then applied their entrepreneurial skills to build their businesses.

Savannah Berk, owner of Sav’s Macs, says she was receiving rave reviews for her homemade macarons, a French style of cookie. Soon, she began supplying her macarons for events and special occasions. Now Berk wants to develop a French macaron cart – available for rental or display at markets, weddings or showers.

After making homemade kolachi for years and selling it on the side, Lynn Hodos decided in 2018 to turn her passion into a real business – Kolache Galore, which has grown between 20% and 50% every year.

“I can’t keep up with demand,” she said, even during the summer months, when kolachi sales are normally low.

Robin Faber, proprietor of Enjoy My Cakes and Catering, said she crafted her culinary skills out of necessity growing up in Harlem in New York City.  One evening, her mother left her as a 7-year-old to care for her younger siblings with little food in the house.  She decided to cook chicken and corn for the family and was determined never to go hungry again.

“I never gave up my dream,” she said, and registered her business in 2018. “I live to cook. This wasn’t a prepared speech. This was a life-lived speech.”

Life and professional experience also had a hand in providing these entrepreneurs with new ideas that laid the foundation for their businesses.

Michael Miller, a veteran and founder of SpinCycle Solutions, opted to start a mobile pickup and delivery laundry service in 2007 after serving in the Army.  The business is in the process of relocating to Raccoon Road in Austintown. 

Natalie Grant, owner of Express Prints, is currently employed at a local prison and wants to launch her own mobile fingerprinting service.

Delmara Daniels, who has experience as a leasing agent, founded Blueprint Industries Management LLC, a business that helps to streamline processes and market rental properties for investors.

Nurse Angela Shaw – owner of Nurse Angela LLC – wanted to honor the memory of her sister who died of cancer by developing a line of sports bras, vests and tank tops that could better cover patient’s chemotherapy ports on their upper chest area.

Other presenters stood out by way of their theatrical deliveries. Aundrea Heschmeyer, owner of Marquee Creatives in Liberty Township, for example, wore a pink baseball outfit along with a glove and ball as she pitched the merits of her marketing, events planning, and consulting firm to the panel.

Vash Penn opted to pitch her business – Yhsav Initiative, a digital marketing service that focuses on musicians and artists – by performing a creative rap written specifically for the event.

Among the other entrepreneurs presenting before the panel were Latisha Weaver-Bennett, owner of La Las Fruit, a nonprofit arm of La La Love Home Health Care that helps children prepare for a better future; Lisa Patterson, owner of Angelic Like Creations, who is seeking a manufacturing partner to produce the company’s hair wraps; and Paul Desmond, owner of Smart Solutions Unlimited, who wants to invest in training for technicians for his electronics design and service company.

A panel consisting of four judges evaluated each presentation and selected Signatures By Symone as the event’s winner.

Mario Nero of Valley Partners, a judge on the panel, said it was very difficult to select a winner since every business presented compelling pitches.

Pictured at top: A $5,000 prize was awarded to Ashlyn Symone, center, the owner of Signatures By Symone. Monica Anderson, left, business director for MBAC, and Tanisha Wheeler, regional director of MBAC, presented the check.