ErieMade Business Academy: reinventing entrepreneurship


Kristen Santiago, owner of retail store Gone Local Erie and business advisory firm Ivy + Atlas (and Erie’s 2021 40 Under 40 winner), has embraced her role as a project consultant and project specialist. business support at the ErieMade Business Academy, a cohort of 21 creative entrepreneurs led by the Erie Center for Arts and Technology (ECAT).

Few looks like Erie is changing its name. What remains to be seen, however, is its ultimate – and equally important – direction that has a say.

If entrepreneur mentoring programs like the ErieMade Business Academy have anything to do with it, the answer will be anybody who has the will and the desire, no matter who they are or where they come from. Combining the resources of Bridgeway Capital’s Creative Business Accelerator (CBA), the Western Pennsylvania Entrepreneur Diversification Fund, Erie Arts and Culture and the Erie Center for Arts and Technology (ECAT), the ErieMade Business Academy aims to transform the “dream American”. from theory to practice for historically marginalized populations.

For many would-be entrepreneurs, the gap between aspiration and achievement isn’t about ability; it’s a matter of accessibility. Because they cannot or do not know how to access the necessary financial, educational and motivational resources, their ideas often fall through. This represents a huge loss for communities socially, economically and culturally, as huge reserves of creative potential remain essentially untapped.

Jude Shingle, arts program director at ECAT and 2016 alumnus of Erie’s 40 Under 40, doesn’t think there’s a resource issue. “It’s about getting people to see that the resources are for them, or to understand that the resources exist, or to talk about them in a different way. That’s the job.”

Awareness is much easier, however, when you build it right in front of them. The location is one of the reasons ECAT, housed in the extensively renovated former Wayne School in the heart of Erie’s Lower East Side, was such a perfect match for ErieMade. Generously equipped and beautifully appointed with 80,180 square feet of studio, conference and activity space, ECAT has already helped area middle and high school students reframe their expectations of what is possible with its clean, open and naturally lit.

“Environment shapes attitude,” says Shingle. Now, the same goes for entrepreneurs in training. In turn, ErieMade stakeholders hope that new businesses can continue to reshape their the environment by creating quality jobs, reactivating post-industrial spaces, reviving Main Street corridors and uplifting underserved populations. There are many downtown neighborhoods — especially where one radiates farther from State Street — that could stand to benefit hugely from this investment, the area around East Avenue being one of them.

The other reason ECAT partnered with ErieMade (via the Bridgeway CBA) is because of their philosophy. Shingle explains, “We have a very holistic approach to career development, so it’s not just about providing educational resources, it’s also about thinking about the whole person, and what barriers they face. you to get an education? Then we wrap the support services around that.”

Confirming this alignment is Katie Johnson, associate director of ABC at Bridgeway Capital, who sometimes seems to paraphrase Shingle. She refers to Bridgeway as a “social impact investor” committed to “investing in small businesses owned by women, BIPOCs, veterans, and those in low-to-moderate income areas.” In short, she says, “the general reason for Bridgeway is to provide capital options for people who have capital barriers.” She calls ErieMade “one of the programmatic expressions of what we do.”

Johnson explains that to “access capital as a tool for building resilient businesses,” potential entrepreneurs must demonstrate their “capital readiness” by preparing or repairing credit, creating a business plan, completing documents, obtaining licenses and authorizations, etc. capital preparation is one of the goals of the ErieMade Business Academy (especially in applying for $2,000 grants through the PA Council on the Arts). The other instills a sincere belief and confidence that their business plans can succeed well beyond the scope of the six-month program, which officially ends at the end of the summer.

“It’s about empowering community members who live in that part of town to invest and see themselves as business owners – to find a truly viable career there,” says Shingle.

Leading these ground-level efforts is Kristen Santiago, project consultant and business support specialist (and 2021 winner of Erie’s 40 under 40). Although she is only 28, she draws on a wealth of experience as the owner of two successful businesses in the area, local themed retail store Gone Local Erie and small business consultancy and to Ivy + Atlas contractors. Under her tutelage is a cohort of 21 designers, artists, designers, artisans, micro-fabricators and fabricators from the greater Erie area, carefully selected from a pool of 40 applicants.

“It was a really competitive process. And it was really exciting,” Santiago recalled.

At the start of the program in early February, Santiago met one-on-one with each member of the cohort to understand their individual goals, visions and circumstances and design a personalized program around their needs, strengths and weaknesses. Group presentations are given once a month at ECAT to break down high-level topics applicable to any business, while Santiago continues to host bi-monthly individual coaching sessions via videoconference.

Ultimately, Santiago says the program “is going to be different for everyone. Everyone works at their own pace. You’ll have someone attacking and doing their whole business plan and then you’ll have more others who will do it section by section, working more slowly and methodically.We need to familiarize ourselves with their working style and the best way to hold them accountable.

Echoes Shingle: “The way we’ve really marketed this program is ‘We’ll meet you where you are.’ You’re part of a cohort. Everyone understands that together. And that’s extremely valuable because being an entrepreneur is terrifying…we’re super excited because we’ve just seen a diverse pool of candidates who don’t generally don’t consider, and may not even use the word “entrepreneur” to describe themselves.”

So while homework and tutorial sessions make up the bulk of the ErieMade Business Academy, there’s still a huge benefit to taking a monthly class. “Not only do you get training on a topic that can apply to most or everyone in the room, but you also get to hear from other people, hear their stories and their struggles,” Santiago says. “It’s really easy to sit there and think, ‘Oh my God, this person is at this level, and they’ve done this and done that and where am I and what have I done? !’ But the second the walls come down and people start being transparent and vulnerable, everyone in the room understands that this is nothing new, this is a universal problem.”

While the anxieties and doubts surrounding entrepreneurship are universal, the language surrounding it often isn’t. Therefore, says Shingle, it was important to adapt this lexicon in a way that works for everyone, whether or not they come from a business background or even speak English as their first language. Santiago feels honored to work with the program’s three New Americans, who were recruited by Erie Arts and Culture and their CHROMA Guild (Santiago thanks Kelly Armor, director of folk art) and the city’s New American Council. Erie (kudos to Niken Astari Carpenter, new US liaison).

Technology can also be a barrier for some, especially those who didn’t grow up with it. Santiago says Patrick Moran, Emerging Technology Librarian at the Erie County Public Library, was instrumental in bringing them up to speed through Blasco’s Ideas Lab, a creative space for adults that offers free access. to equipment and lessons. “It’s a lot to connect the dots.”

Whether there will be future iterations of ErieMade remains to be seen, but everyone seems optimistic. “A lot of companies are already working on their business plans and making leaps forward. Some people have already gotten grants and just done great things. So we know it’s working really well,” Johnson enthuses, which has seen similar programs flourish in Pittsburgh and elsewhere in the 15 Bridgeway counties of western Pennsylvania.

“I’m thrilled to be part of this program and to impact so many businesses. Because I know how difficult and lonely it can be,” admits Santiago. “And also to have the support of organizations like ECAT and Bridgeway and Erie Arts and Culture – all the pieces work together in such a cool way. If the same marriage of all resources could happen in other sectors of this city, amazing things would happen.”

“I digress. That’s another article for another day.”

One we certainly hope to write.

Matt Swanseger can be contacted at [email protected]


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