MBAC Split Allows YBI, Valley Partners to Expand Services

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Sharing minority business assistance responsibilities between the Youngstown Business Incubator and Valley Partners will improve the organizations’ abilities to help minority-owned and women-owned businesses, the director of the YBI-based office said.

In its announcement of Ohio Minority Business Assistance Center Network Program hosts for the two-year grant cycle that begins July 1, the Ohio Department of Development last week designated Valley Partners, Liberty Township, as a Tier 1 MBAC, offering assistance to businesses in the ideation and early start-up phase.

YBI, which has offered MBAC services since 2017, has been designated as a Tier 2 center that will work with existing and growth-stage businesses to assist with certifications, procurement and assistance to capital, the state development department said in its release.

During the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a fall 2022 listening tour, “The common theme” business owners expressed was the need for “foundational support” for minority-, women-, veteran-owned and other disadvantaged businesses, said Sarah Wickham, chief communications and marketing officer at the Ohio Department of Development. 

“As such, we realized the need for a two-tiered system,” she said. “Tier 1 supports those businesses in the ideation/start-up phase to establish a solid foundation for business success. Tier 2 is aligned with the historical MBAC framework, with the addition of dedicated financial advisers and certification specialists in the MBAC regions.”

During the current grant period, the YBI MBAC has provided 625 counseling hours and has seen 231 clients who have secured 35 new certifications and $1.05 million in capital, according to a YBI news release.  

The state decided to break MBAC services into the two tiers to allow them to have “true impact in our communities and really assist our companies better,” said Stephanie Gilchrist, director of YBI’s center. YBI will receive $400,000 over the two-year period of the grant, while Valley Partners was awarded $100,000 for the grant period.

As a Tier 2 center, the YBI MBAC will focus on assisting established companies with receiving certifications as women-owned or minority-owned enterprises, referred to as WBEs and MBEs; lending; contracts and procurement, Gilchrist said. Additionally, the center will be able to do greater outreach in the seven counties it serves.  

“Before as an MBAC, we handled business from inception to growing and scaling,” she said. The new system gives Valley Partners state support to continue the work it does with early-stage companies through its Business Resource Center, led by Matthew Longmire.

That will allow YBI to “focus on those companies that are already existing and just need that help so we can help them create more jobs and become more sustainable,” Gilchrist said.     

When Valley Partners became certified as a Community Development Financial Institution in 2020, its mission expanded to include helping underserved populations and those located in underserved communities, said Teresa Miller, executive director of Valley Partners.

“We are already offering free technical assistance to small-business clients,” she said. “This helps increase the tools that we have in order to be able to service those clients.”  

The grant award and recognition “acknowledges our strong commitment in supporting minority-owned businesses in the city of Youngstown,” Longmire said.

Longmire will assist companies that are in the idea phase or have “a bare minimum business plan” and will advance them to the stage that they can either start their businesses or can apply for financing, Miller said.

“After they’re in business for a year, we would refer them to YBI so they can get their MBE or WBE certification,” she continued. In addition, the two organizations will partner to host seminars and classes to educate people looking to start or expand their small businesses.

Barb Ewing, YBI CEO, shared ihow YBI’s participation as an MBAC site has benefited the incubator.

“Serving as the host for the MBAC program in the Valley has been catalytic for YBI in so many ways that it’s hard to define,” she said. “It’s not only made us a more diverse staff, but it’s allowed us to serve a more representative part of our community.”

Pictured at top: Stephanie Gilchrist, director of Youngstown’s Minority Business Assistance Center, and Matthew Longmire, Valley Partner’s Business Resource Center manager.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.