Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ward 8 Entrepreneurship: Not "sexy" but still important

Small Biz Entrepreneurs at at Sidehustle Saturday
event at The HIVE 2.0
Sometimes I get really (and I mean really) annoyed when all the talk surrounding small business innovation and development surrounds "saviors" located west of the Anacostia river. To be honest, sometimes I have to chuckle when I think of all the support (financial and otherwise) that is thrown to attract businesses (and business incubators) to K Street NW. Who knew the Golden Triangle had it so tough? ;)

To be fair, I am probably more than a bit biased. I run The HIVE + The HIVE 2.0 small business incubators in Ward 8 for a nonprofit organization.  While our incubators may not have all the bells and whistles (and hype) of some of our counterparts, nor be the recipients of a lot of government funding we do provide a much needed services for entrepreneurs east of the river. (Please note: While The HIVEs do receive small grants to provide small business technical assistance our membership fees have to cover our rent and overhead). We don't just service our tenants but anyone in need of small business technical assistance --- all of our events are free and open to the public.

Hugs to Capital One Bank for sponsoring our
coworking lab at HIVE 2.0! 
So although Microsoft and Dell aren't currently beating down our door to provide services and startup capital to our members, we do what we can to give them a foothold and a push to become successful and sustainable small businesses.  Although my staff is small (and couldn't run without the support of volunteers and partnerships) we do what we can to provide services and support to emerging entrepreneurs and nonprofits. So although The HIVEs aren't located in shiny new buildings in a prestigious zip code we do what we can to provide quality and affordable office space solutions. To be honest we would love to lower our membership rates even further to accommodate many more small businesses but that is just not feasible without significant sponsorship support. Not every small business may be "scalable" or have the front page appeal of some but they still have value, they can still provide quality services and jobs (hopefully to DC residents).

Despite this being "Chocolate City" (for the moment), there is a real and true divide in D.C.'s entrepreneurship and small business development sector. I know because I experience it all the time during the course of business. Often I am The Only in these small business and economic development meetings of DC's "shotcallers" and elite. I'm The Only Black, the Only Woman and most definitely the Only East of the River presence in the room. I jokingly say I should rent myself out as a professional double minority... I would make a killing at press events and panel discussions. :)

Showing our Southeast Love after Sidehustle Saturday
So in a ward with unemployment hovering around 25% why aren't Ward 8 small businesses and entrepreneurs getting all of the support they need? To be honest, our HIVE + HIVE 2.0  member companies and organizations aren't what is trending now. This is not a reflecting of the work they do --   our members are great and we love them but most just don't fit into the marketing mold of what D.C. considers small business success.  The small businesses we service are just that, "small businesses" and about 95% of them are minority-owned and operated. They aren't sexy tech startups, they don't come with a team of twenty employees and interns, they haven't been photographed with the Mayor (who is yet to pay us a visit) at some industry event.

Me (center) with two of our Creative Economy Residents
Catherine (left) and Jess (right) of Live UnChained
Our members are not social media darlings who are on everyone's lips at the next meetup. Not to knock those incubators who do that -- there should be something for everyone and "kudos" for them for doing what they do. They are providing a needed service and environment for their demographic. That being said all of our HIVE and HIVE 2.0 members are truly the backbone of what turns employees into employers and they should not be ignored just because their logos aren't shiny and new. Most (if not all) of our members are just the every day person who decided to take a chance, step out on faith, and try to achieve their small business or nonprofit dream. So although they may not be "sexy" or "trending" right now they are important and for us they are the most important players on the stage. They are deserving of every opportunity, every grant, every initiative and every single line of hype that is currently being heaped on the "hip and the now."

"Branding your business" workshop co-hosted by WACIF
at The HIVE 2.0
So for those reasons our team will continue to work 70 - 80 hour weeks doing all that we can to fill the gap, provide the support, and at times lend a sympathetic ear to our kickass small businesses that make it happen, every day because to stop hustling means small business suicide.

So if you are reading this and you would like to join our team as either a member, a volunteer, or a partner organization please let us know. We want you, even if you aren't deemed "sexy" right now.  ;)

In the meantime, check out some of our upcoming events. As always our events are free and open to the public -- that's just how we roll -- even if we won't make the cover of Forbes because of it. ;)

Upcoming HIVE 2.0 events
Tues, April 23rd | 6:30pm - 8:30pm

Tues, April 24th | 6:30pm - 8:30pm

Tues, April 30th | 6:30pm - 8:30pm

Wed, May 1st | 6:30pm - 8:30pm

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