GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT
By Michelle Cassell
ORANGE COUNTY — A program founded last year is helping minority business owners make their start.
Delores Bailey created BrightPath Solutions because she saw minority-owned businesses struggling to survive during the pandemic.
Bailey is the executive director of EMPOWERment, Inc., a community development organization.
Bailey said EMPOWERment facilitated weekly meetings with minority businesses to stay strong, and the organization wanted to understand how the organizations could survive during the pandemic.
Bailey brought in experts like Aaron Nelson from the Chamber of Commerce and Latasha Best-Gaddy from the Small Business and Technology Development Center at North Carolina Central University. About 40 business owners met with the team each week.
“It was during this process we realized that many of the minority business owners were not connected to funding resources available to them in Orange County,” Bailey said.
As a result, BrightPath was created.
“Our intention was to capture minority businesses at all stages to ensure they had what they needed in case another pandemic happened,” Bailey said. “After meeting every week for six months, we realized there was a desperate need to help these businesses obtain funding through paths already available to them that they were unaware of.”
The organization helped owners fill out applications for small business loans through the PPP Grant Program. As their Zoom meetings progressed, the group could direct business owners to other resources, such as Orange County’s Emergency House Assistance Program.
BrightPath started offering intensive training sessions for minority business owners divided by zero to five years old under the direction of Project Manager Lavett Sadler on April 27.
“It could be a thought in your head, or you could almost be ready to launch your business. We met for three Saturdays all day long in virtual meetings bringing in experts to talk with them,” Bailey said.
The meetings are facilitated by Latasha Best Gaddy, owner of Infinity Bridges. Bailey said that the idea made so much sense to her because there were so many minority businesses in Orange County that had not been connected to Orange County economic development funding.
“The whole point of BrightPath was not only to educate and be a resource for these minority businesses but to guide them to resources available in Orange County that they could apply for that they were unaware of,” Bailey said.
Bailey made local development directors with the towns and county aware of BrightPath’s mission and the need for the training and grant information they provided for minority businesses.
“We are very much in support of BrightPath Solutions and what it offers,” said Carrboro Economic Development Director Jon Hartman-Brown said.
With a consensus of support from the economic development directors, she took her campaign to the Truist Bank Foundation in Chapel Hill, which gave BrightPath a grant for $50,000 spread out over three years.
BrightPath received additional grant money from the Town of Chapel Hill through American Rescue Plan Act, Fifth Third Bank of Chapel Hill and Duke Energy.
Bailey is pledging to continue applying to different places for grants. “The very glowing elephant in the room is that our minority businesses are out there floundering, and they may not need a $1,000 grant as much as they need what these experts bring them at no cost,” she said.
After business owners complete the two-and-a-half day intensive training, which includes marketing information, record keeping, and loan application advice, to name a few topics, Sadler talks with each cohort about how to get to the next level.
Sadler provides information, places to source money, and assistance to ensure they are going in the direction they are thinking of with their business ventures.
“We help them develop their business plan, and then they can apply for micro-grants up to $1,000 through the EmPOWERment Inc. fund,” Saddler said.
The first training sessions series began with an in-person on April 27 for businesses up to 5 years old.. Plans are in place to have another session for 5 years and up this summer. The program has enough funding to run for the next two years. There is no cost to the businesses.
“This is going to be an ongoing initiative that will be open to minority businesses,” said Bailey said
The only requirement is registration, but space is limited. Call 919-967-8779 to register.