Starting a new business is hard enough in normal times but there is no denying that a pandemic adds challenges to that process that are unimaginable.
“I was just starting to get my feet wet,” Aaron McClinton said when describing how COVID-19 affected his business.
McClinton started his photo-booth business in 2019 not realizing that he was going to have to shut right back down because of this virus. But Aaron did not let this minor hiccup stop him.
“When COVID hit … I started to do virtual photo-booths,” McClinton said.
Once the pandemic began to ease up in 2021, Aaron was looking forward to expanding his business. He heard about the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) and decided to apply.
“If I could do a backflip, I would,” McClinton said once he found out that he was chosen for LEAP.
LEAP One and All is a program in which 20 Lansing entrepreneurs are selected and provided with etiquette training to help grow their businesses. The program is two-months long and participants are awarded $2500 following their completion.
Darrien Gibson, owner of Elite Eatery LLC, can already see the success LEAP is going to bring to his company.
“I know the destination I want to go to but the relationships that I’m building … are giving me a direct path to get there without having to bump my head so much,” Gibson said.
Gibson owns multiple companies and has never had guidance when building up these companies.
“All the different businesses and avenues that I have, I never had a business plan for it. I had ideas and I figured out how to make the ideas work,” Gibson said.
Being a part of LEAP, Gibson and all other participants will never have to be on their own again. The program offers mentoring, networking, coaching, and all other resources necessary from the LEAP team and partners, Fledge and the Refugee Development Center.
Each entrepreneur is paired with a mentor that can help them in all aspects of their business. Gibson was partnered with Jose Aste, owner of Tantay, a Peruvian cuisine right down the street from him.
“Just from our first conversation, literally he sparked a million ideas in my head,” Gibson said. “That is a very great relationship … he has a restaurant; he’s going into the food truck industry now. … I’m telling him about … what to expect in the food truck world and he’s telling me about how to get into … what I’m doing right now.”
Dartagka Tipton, owner of 4 Tha Soul Restaurant, has high hopes for the program and is looking forward to using the money he is awarded to re-brand his business that is hidden because of a previous restaurant.
“When you pull up it says, ‘Lil Barbecue’, “Tipton said.
He is looking to replace the sign that was left behind by previous owners to invite more people into his business.
“On the front it says 4 Tha Soul but most people when they are driving down the street, the sign is all they see,” Tipton said.
All these business owners are excited about what the program has to offer to them. This is a program specifically for minorities and all the owners recognize this as a chance like no other.
“This program is reassuring that I have a second chance,” McClinton said. “When you have resources like this, you can overcome all.”