Local Partners Unveil Online Tool to Assist Entrepreneurs

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A new online tool unveiled Thursday will help connect entrepreneurs with various resource providers, from economic development agencies and business incubators to entities that offer venture capital and financing.

Representatives of local partners including the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Economic Action Group and Mahoning County Board of Commissioners held an event Thursday afternoon at Penguin City Brewing Co. to unveil the Mahoning Valley Resource Compass, a technology platform developed for local entrepreneurs to enhance and simplify the area’s small-business development process.

“The goal of the Mahoning Valley Resource Compass is to make it easier and more equitable for entrepreneurs to access the resources they need,” said Nick Chretien, EAG’s executive director and director of planning and regional development for the Western Reserve Port Authority. “Small businesses are the backbone of our community. They bring vitality, jobs and a unique character to our region.”

The website, developed with Economic Impact Catalyst, based in Clearwater, Florida, provides links to 30 state, regional and local resources, along with brief descriptions of what kinds of assistance each provides. They include the Northern Ohio district office of the U.S. Export Assistance Center, local and business incubators, state resources such as the Ohio Business Gateway and Ohio 1st Stop Business Connection, local development and planning offices and area public libraries.

“This website is a central hub for entrepreneurs and small businesses to find what specific agencies can assist them in their goals,” said Michelle Phillips, director of research for the Regional Chamber.

Mahoning County supported the project with $60,000 from its American Rescue Plan Act allocation.

The initiative grew out of a partnership of the cities of Youngstown, Akron, Canton, Toledo and Dayton in Ohio in a series led by Forward Cities, a national network fostering inclusive innovation and economic development. The series, which was aimed at business development in cities outside what are commonly referred to in Ohio as “the three Cs,” Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Forward Cities introduced the Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, or E3, program, aiming to support small businesses, with a special focus on Hispanic- and Black-owned small businesses. A result of the E3 exercise, the Mahoning Valley Resource Compass was developed as a technology platform for local entrepreneurs to enhance and simplify the area’s small-business development process. It provides integrated tools, knowledge and support for business owners and entrepreneurs.

“The Regional Chamber routinely provides referrals to small businesses for specific resources in financing, business planning, etc.,” Phillips said. “The Resource Compass brings value to a small business owner by saving time and energy that instead allows them to focus on their core business. It’s easier to find resources when they are presented in one place; this targeted approach helps to reduce the obstacles and barriers that business owners encounter.”

EAG is actively involved in managing the program and has committed staff hours to keep it functioning smoothly.

“Partnering with other organizations enhances our efforts and ensures a broader impact. While this is just Phase I of our launch, we’re already looking ahead to expand and introduce additional features to further support our local businesses,” Chretien said.

Pictured at top: Mahoning County Commissioners Anthony Traficanti, left, and David Ditzler help introduce the new technology platform.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.