First Scale DSM accelerator cohort graduates 9 small business owners

Tech takeaway:

The Scale DSM Minority Business Accelerator, a program of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, launched in June to help diverse small businesses owners scale their businesses, and the first cohort of business owners completed the program on Tuesday. The origin of the program is a report done in partnership with Bâton Global assessing needs and gaps for diverse business owners in the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The seven-month educational program uses the Streetwise MBA program from Boston-based nonprofit Interise.

Scaling and growing look different for every small business, and the path to achieving each company’s version of growth varies, too.

The continued hurdles of access to capital, resources and information among diverse business owners led to the creation of the Scale DSM Minority Business Accelerator, which targets educational gaps to propel entrepreneurs beyond the startup phase.

“We found out that there are a number of minority-owned businesses that have passed the startup phase,” said Juan Pablo Sanchez, the Partnership’s director of inclusive business strategies. “They had been operating for years already, but for some reason they couldn’t scale, so they needed help in knowledge as well.”

The seven-month, tuition-free program, sponsored by Wells Fargo, is one of the first efforts to come out of the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s broader Inclusive Business Strategies Initiative aiming to “define pathways for existing resources to build inclusive, sustainable entrepreneur-centric economies.”

Sanchez started leading the initiative and working to launch the accelerator program after starting his role in January. The initiative’s efforts have been guided by a report released in September assessing barriers and opportunities in the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem based on feedback from focus groups of diverse small business owners and entrepreneur support organizations.

The nine business owners who participated in Scale DSM’s first cohort marked their completion of the program on Tuesday with a ceremony held at the Partnership. The graduates of the first cohort are:

  • Jasmine Brooks, Brooks Homes.
  • Shelana Laing, Smile Labs VIP LLC.
  • Lily Okech, Cleaning for Hope.
  • Monica Reyes, Inmobiliaria Inc.
  • Isabel Contreras, La Michoacana.
  • Latha Kumar, Zamoris Solutions Inc.
  • Andres Rodriguez, Cotofos Auto Services.
  • Stephen Stegall, Golden Heart Senior Care.
  • Vince Collis, Title Fight.

“We had such a dynamic and very good group of business owners because they are all not only business owners but community leaders in their areas as well,” Sanchez said.

Jasmine Brooks, CEO of Brooks Homes and one of Scale DSM’s first graduates, is building her residential homebuilding business with an “underground mission” to create equity in the building and development sector.

She started Brooks Homes with her husband in 2017, inspired by a lifetime of seeing her dad work in the resale sector of real estate after moving back to Des Moines when her grandmother’s life savings were stolen by a contractor.

“As I got married and had my first child, I kind of had that same moment [as my dad] of I don’t know that clocking in at a 9-to-5 every single day is going to build generational wealth,” Brooks said.

Brooks Homes has built homes each year since it started, but five years in, Brooks named capital as the company’s top obstacle to growth.

Since the business is newer and smaller, the loans they need from banks to fund new construction have often been only available based on the Brookses’ personal credit scores, which puts them in a position of financial risk. Brooks said avoiding that translates to fewer projects and makes Brooks Homes more likely to be overlooked when they are competing for projects with larger counterparts that have more revenue and companies that go back generations.

“Our strategy has really been to tap into the smaller local banks, who we can have personal one-on-one relationships with. … Using that strategy, we have made a little bit of headway to where our lending power is more but it still is backed by our personal names,” Brooks said.

Sanchez said every business faces some challenges around capital, but the barriers remain higher for entrepreneurs of color or immigrant entrepreneurs.

“They know how to do their business; some of them are professionals coming from other countries,” he said. “They have the knowledge [and] they have the experience, so capital is one of the hardest barriers to start something here.”

Brooks said she is coming away from Scale DSM with more knowledge, including about capital and funding opportunities, but also relationships.

“The thing that I gained that I wasn’t really expecting is that there were also a number of other Black and brown business owners who are going through the same thing and now we have that network and that support,” she said.

Two more cohorts of Scale DSM are planned for 2023 and 2024, Sanchez said. With the graduates of the first cohort referring other business owners, he hopes to have 14 to 16 business owners participating in next year’s program.

Brooks said she has also felt a need for mentorship, especially mentors who will be “equity partners” for entrepreneurs of color. But she is also seeking more ways to be a mentor and build up equity by pursuing her doctorate in business and entrepreneurship at Iowa State University.

“My purpose in even applying to get my Ph.D. in business and entrepreneurship is so that not only I can scale my business better, but I can also do the research to see what changes need to be made for other Black and brown businesses,” she said.

From her father’s journey to her own, Brooks is striving to take down barriers to generational wealth in the building industry and across the entrepreneurial community.

“That’s where all of this started from is wanting to be able to give back to a community that we grew up in and practically raised us, so we’re not going to give up on that dream of being able to give back,” she said.