MBE, WBE Certification Could Be Streamlined, LaRose Says

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Legislation introduced in the Ohio Senate would eliminate the need for minority business owners — and, potentially, women business owners — to get certified in each of the communities where they are bidding for work.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose outlined the legislation during a meeting with women and youth entrepreneurs Friday at the Youngstown Business Incubator.

“When entrepreneurs are spending their time filling out forms and paying fees, that’s time that they’re not spending making shea butter or baking coolies or making bracelets to sell to their clients,” he said, referring to some of the products displayed by participants in YBI’s 15-week Launchpad program for youth entrepreneurs.

Senate Bill 105, introduced in March by state Sens. Vernon Sykes, D-28 Akron, and Kirk Schuring, R-29 Canton, would require political subdivisions in Ohio to recognize state certifications of minority business enterprises. Advocates have proposed an amendment to provide the same status to women-owned business enterprises.

The initiative came out of a roundtable LaRose hosted in Cleveland when he became Ohio secretary of state. At the event, a Black business owner described his experience of having to pay a fee to get his MBE certification in Cleveland, another for the county and another with the state.

“Imagine if you had to get one driver’s license here in Mahoning County and then get a different driver’s license in Trumbull County. It would be a pain in the neck, right?” LaRose said. “It’s an idea that honestly should have gotten done a long time ago.”

During his YBI visit, LaRose underscored the record-breaking 171,000 business filings in Ohio in 2021, something that seemed “counterintuitive” given the pandemic conditions of the past year.

“You’re all an inspiration,” he said. Starting a business is a “courageous thing” at any time, “let alone with the uncertainty that we face right now.”

Over the past five years, YBI’s Women in Entrepreneurship program has assisted about 150 entrepreneurs, said Stephanie Gilchrist, director of the incubator’s women and youth entrepreneurship programs.

The goal of Launchpad, which began five weeks ago, is to have each of the 25 participating entrepreneurs registered with the state – if they aren’t already – and have an employer identification number and bank account for their business.

Gilchirst asked whether there is a way to tie certification to funding sources that would be available to these businesses. Women, minority and youth entrepreneurship program participants often see disparity when it comes to capital access and funding growth opportunities, she said.

“I just had a call with two women who just recently went through our WE Create program, and they have a waiting list of clients, but it’s not just them,” she said.

The capital issue is one the U.S. Small Business Administration is better equipped to address, LaRose said. He pointed out that when businesses incorporate in Ohio, his office supplies them with “a menu of opportunities” such as the Ohio Minority Business Assistance Center, which has an office at YBI. The MBAC program offers coaching, access to capital and can connect businesses with SBA.

Among the youth entrepreneurs attending Friday’s program was 8-year-old A’Nya Reynolds of Youngstown, the founder of A. Rose Shea Butter Co.

Reynolds, whose mother is Tanisha Wheeler, curriculum director for the youth entrepreneurship program, said she began making the product two years ago to address her sensitive skin and eczema.

The YBI program taught her that “a small business can turn into a large business,” she said. She sold a couple of jars of her product at the event.

The Launchpad participants, after weeks of virtual meetings, gathered for the first time at YBI last week, Gilchrist said.

“We’re really excited about the momentum and where they’re going with their businesses,” she said.

“The beautiful thing is we know some are not going to end up with just that business idea, but they have multiples. So, it’s interesting to see if they’re going to stick with the one they have or by the time they’re done with us that they’ll end up starting something totally different.”

Pictured at top: Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose addresses participants in a discussion Friday at the Youngstown Business Incubator. Beside him is Stephanie Gilchrist, director of the incubator’s women and youth entrepreneurship programs.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.