As the 2024 Biz Smart Start Launches, 2023 Cohort Members are Still Going Strong

The Biz Smart Start program kicked off its 2024 session on May 8 with 10 participants from the 24:1 Community eager to learn more about advancing their early-stage ventures.

Following their 12 weeks of intensive coaching and mentorship from experts, each entrepreneur will receive a $1,000 award and the opportunity to compete to win an additional award.

Members of the inaugural cohort in 2023 say they’re still using the resources and strategies they received during their Biz Smart Start experience.

Maccabees Family Barkery

Latricia SanNicolas handmakes exquisite dog treats that rival anything found in bakeries for their two-legged friends. Cakes, cupcakes, cookies, donuts, dehydrated chews, jerky, and more—all of her products are made from natural, healthy, canine-safe ingredients without salt or preservatives.

SanNicolas started making treats at her partner’s house because he owns a dog kennel and makes his own dog food. Both people and pets liked her creations so much that she kept experimenting, and soon the idea for Maccabees Family Barkery was born.

She has used everything she learned in the Biz Smart Start sessions. “The program was very beneficial,” she said. “It was good for motivation. Coming to class made me develop and actually start the business.”

Her biggest challenge is finding the time to make progress toward her goal of opening a storefront. In addition to working full-time at USBank, she has four children involved in various activities. But she still talks to the mentor she met through Biz Smart Start, and she is taking a piecemeal approach to the business. For example, she is in the process of setting up a website, and she has been selling her products through vendor events as well as through social media.

“Beyond Housing has made a huge impact with my housing and with being able to start my business,” SanNicolas said. “They are very community oriented, and I appreciate them for that.”

Tender Love and Tresses

Michelle Byrd, founder of Tender Love and Tresses, said she applied for the program because she wanted to learn more about licensing options for hair care that didn’t require all the chemical treatments that are standard in a traditional cosmetology setting.

Because Byrd’s clients are mostly elderly people suffering hair loss due to diseases such as cancer or COVID, she focuses on natural methods of hair care. In many cases, her clients have always been told they needed to use chemicals to achieve attractive results—and often this led to worsening problems with their hair.

“It has been a godsend, not just for me, but for my clients, because I’ve been able to lean into these relationships more,” Byrd said.

She felt the Biz Smart Start experience was especially beneficial for entrepreneurs just starting to address the basics of business ownership, such as licensing, market research, banking, taxes, etc.

Byrd had already advanced beyond that stage—for example, she had earned the sanitation certification she needed in order to braid hair and set up an online appointment scheduling system—but she found the sessions beneficial nonetheless. “I enjoyed the weekly guest speakers from different walks of life like Toastmasters and social media,” she said. “The way those things were explained by people who do them every day made a difference.” She found herself taking copious notes, which helped reduce her anxiety about next steps, and mentally streamlining all the things she needed to do.

“The classes gave me the confidence to be a business owner,” Byrd said. “I’m good at connecting with people, but I struggled with reaching out for help because I was taught not to take handouts. The program helped me see things from a different perspective—and it helped me add flexibility in my plan of action.”

She learned that she can complete barbering school—which does not require learning about so many chemical treatments—in just eight months and then she hopes to apprentice at a natural hair salon. She is in the process of saving toward making the business her full-time employment within the next five years.

In the meantime, she continues to work her day job with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra as a program manager for the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus and to do her “heart’s work” evenings and weekends. She is delighted by the progress her clients have made in growing their hair and building confidence in their appearance.

Byrd uses her degree in music education in her business too, teaching clients songs to help them remember hair care techniques. “A lot of people don’t have patience with elderly people,” she said. “I have been graced with the approach to teach them. I want to be known for love.”

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