By TREVOR METCALFE of INSIDE BUSINESS
After a more than a decade in the United States, Peruvian-born Karin Gallegos was ready to take her handmade jewelry business to the next level. However, Gallegos, while knowing a lot about startups in Peru, was having trouble translating that experience to the U.S. business culture.
So, Gallegos enrolled in the Certificate of Retail Operations program with the local Retail Alliance — a 42-week crash course in running a small business.
Gallegos, owner of the online Hola Bonita Designs, said when she moved here she found many things to be different. “This course definitely gave me that education.”
Gallegos is one of a handful of existing and prospective entrepreneurs who pitched their ideas to area business experts during the Minnow Bucket pitch event Sept. 11 in Norfolk. Students talked about their ideas and were grilled by panelists on everything from finances to marketing and target customers.
Program supervisor Michelle Young said it’s often the first chance for students to gain some confidence and face scrutiny of their business ambitions.
“While it’s important for them to be incubated, if you will, in a protected environment, the reality is as an entrepreneur, there’s risk,” said Young, director of education at Retail Alliance’s Center for Retail Excellence.
Ivoress Morris knew from her experience in the human services field how hard it is for families of children with disabilities to find public spaces and activities free from judgment or shame. So, she founded JMT Sweets & More with the intention of eventually opening a restaurant where those families could feel welcome.
The mobile boutique bakery is based out of Virginia Beach and has a bakery in Chesapeake but services all of Hampton Roads.
“I’ve worked with children that are suicidal, homicidal (and) are on the Autism spectrum,” Morris said. “And they need a safe place to go, for the parents and for the kids… A place that they can eat, a place where they can enjoy their meal, they can have activities and they have a group of people around them that are reinforcing the wanted behaviors.”
The pitch event was the culmination of the 42-week program for both new and existing entrepreneurs. Young said she brings in both members of Retail Alliance and other local business experts to teach. The program has been around for two years and covers subjects like finances, inventory management, marketing and loss prevention.
“It takes them through the critical elements they need to operate a successful business,” Young said.
The event’s panelists didn’t go easy on the students, either. They grilled the future and current business owners on everything from whether they had identified their customer base to whether they’re profitable.
The latter came up when Michael Merritt, who owns Siren Skate Shop in Colonial Heights, delivered his presentation. Panelist and Philip Michael Fashion for Men owner Philip Scotti quizzed Merritt on his break-even point and pointed out it was well below his yearly sales.
“So really, you can’t take a salary under this yet,” Scotti said. “You’re doing this more out of a passion.”
The panelists eventually offered some advice to Merritt. For instance, since he’s built community credibility and goodwill by fixing kids’ skateboards for free, it might be time to start raising his prices.
“Don’t be scared, because already, you’re making people feel good just by tightening the (skateboard) bolts,” Scotti said.
The program costs $995 to attend all sessions. Each of the program’s seven topic areas can also be taken individually for $165. Learn more at RetailAlliance.com.
StartWheel’s mission is to centralize and mobilize efforts that foster the growth of entrepreneurism in our regional innovation economy. We aim to support and cultivate an entrepreneurial network in HRVA where talent, resources, information and leadership come together.