GEDI partners with Western Communities Redevelopment Alliance to host the Invincible Small Business Series

Published: October 22, 2020

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As part of an Economic Development Administration University Center grant, The Government and Economic Development Institute’s, or GEDI, Interim Executive Director, LaKami Baker, hosted an eight- week training program in partnership with the Western Communities Redevelopment Alliance, or WCRA, titled “The Invincible Small Business Series: Creating, Delivering, and Capturing Value Post COVID-19”.

WCRA serves urban and rural communities lacking economic development capacity through support and coordination of resources. “The Invincible Small Business Series” was about challenging minority small business owners to reinvent their business, compete on superior business models, transcend industry boundaries, and create more value in an effort to become invincible.

The idea for the program came from Jeremy Duckworth, Executive Director of WCRA. “I contacted Dr. Baker about conducting a small business accelerator program in my community. She was very receptive to the idea and developed a program that included eight, one-hour online classes with activities and homework assignments. The topics were designed to add the most value to small business owners and the program was well received,” said Duckworth.

Twenty-five businesses submitted video applications detailing their business needs and what they could bring to their communities if selected to participate in the program. A selection committee reviewed the applications and selected 10 people to participate in the program. In the end, nine students completed the program in its entirety and received certificates of completion during a virtual graduation ceremony on August 17.

“The feedback from the participants has been overwhelmingly positive”, said Duckworth. “Most of the comments I got were ‘Where has this been all my life?’ and ‘When can we do more programs like this?’, Duckworth explained. “Several of the businesses who participated in the program are already having success. One of the program graduates has been able to secure some funding through a private funder based on the work done refining their value proposition in the class,” Duckworth added.

Ariel Smith, owner of The Food Truck Scholar blog and podcast, found the program to be especially useful and engaging. “Dr. Baker was very intent on making this program one that would work for small business owners. Each session was packed with useful content and information, and examples of how each topic could be directly applied to our individual businesses,” Smith said. “We also got feedback from classmates and on the spot consulting from our peers. Having someone explain the concepts and how we can engage with our various customer channels was huge for me. I will definitely replay the recorded sessions so I can go back again and revisit key points and ideas as my business grows and changes,” Smith stated.

Reginald Davis, owner of Heartful Echoes, a Christian based clothing company had a similar reaction. “Dr. Baker was phenomenal,” he said. “I appreciate her hands on approach and how she walked us through the topics and made them easy to understand.” Davis added, “She helped me narrow down my vision so I can effectively manage my business and pinpoint actions with my customer channels to help me get my products to the consumers.”

Over the course of the eight weeks, participants were introduced to the business model canvas and applied the nine elements of the business model to their business with a focus on identifying the customers that benefit the most from the products and services they offer and clarifying the value they create and deliver to their customers. The business owners brought value to Dr. Baker as well, as she notes, "Working with all the business owners was a highlight of this pandemic for me. They inspired me with their willingness to learn and their desire to take their business to the next level. I am honored to be involved in their journey to becoming invincible."

Program graduates are:

  • Corey Bishop - Refresh Clothes 2 

  • Reginald Davis - Heartful Echoes 

  • Andrea McIntosh - Milestone Barbers 

  • Ariel Smith - The Food Truck Scholar ,

  • Michael Gould - E21 Realty 

  • Yolanda Sullivan - Penny Foundation 

  • Jennifer Elizabeth Duckworth - Neighbor Foundations

  • Tanesha Sims-Summers - Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn 

  • Jeremy Duckworth - Western Communities Redevelopment Alliance 

GEDI is committed to helping entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed and was able to provide this program at no cost to participants through a Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, or EDA, grant to Auburn’s University Center. Auburn’s University Center is a partnership among The Government and Economic Development Institute, The Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship and the Office of External Engagement.

For more information on GEDI programs and services, visit