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Fresno Black Chamber Bets Big on Helping Start-up Businesses

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After graduating from Betting Big, B Awesum's Melanie Glass opened her 5th art gallery collective in River Park. (GV Wire/Liz Juarez)
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Betting Big is a program that puts Fresno’s small Black-owned businesses on the path to success.

Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) seeking entrepreneurship opportunities learn how to develop a business plan that helps with budgeting, marketing, and other business tools and tips through the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce’s new innovation hub.

“Betting Big will overcome both individual and collective barriers to diverse small business ownership success by applying best practices and culturally competent programming,” said Dr. Cassandra Little, CEO for FMBCC.

B AWESUM Gets a Push Forward With Help From FMBCC

Melanie Glass has always been an artist, but it wasn’t until she moved to Fresno that she found the courage to formalize her business in California.

“Before I was haphazard, trying to figure it out, putting out fires, starting new projects, and not really looking at where do I see my business five years from now and what do I want to accomplish?” — Melanie Glass, owner of B AWESUM

Glass says she moved to California in 2017 to go to school for art therapy and slowly began to immerse herself in the ArtHop scene while connecting with other local artists.

She says that Betting Big helped her see her business, B AWESUM, more clearly.

“Overall the program helped me see things, see my business differently,” said Glass. “Before I was haphazard, trying to figure it out, putting out fires, starting new projects, and not really looking at where do I see my business five years from now and what do I want to accomplish?”

Glass now has a business plan for the next five years, and with the help of FMBCC, she is connecting with other local women entrepreneurs, artists, and musicians to collaborate on other business projects.

Watch: River Park’s Art Groove Galley

B AWESUM Transforms Vacant Spaces

B AWESUM transforms vacant buildings or designated areas into creative spaces. Glass recently took over her fifth vacant retail building in the River Park shopping center and transformed it into an art gallery that hosts local artwork from 25 artists  — including her own.

“Right now, I’m a sole proprietor, but as I get larger, I’m hoping I may become an LLC or have a business partner or corporation, and these are things that I learned through them,” said Glass.

Through Betting Big and her new business connections, Glass also landed a position as ArtHop’s event coordinator and gallery director. And, her company is the new arts program manager for FMBCC.

Glass says she has several other partnerships in the works, and just recently helped curate the Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s First Annual National  Black History Month Celebration & Reception.

Looking ahead, Glass hopes she can open spaces and buildings across the state and travel the country showcasing the work of artists and musicians.

HERYONISTY Finds Success With Help From FMBCC

Another black-owned business emerging from the FMBCC program is HERYONISTY. It’s a womb wellness studio offering women a non-invasive holistic approach to gynecological issues.

LaToya Hodge says she lost her job as a nurse practitioner during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led her to start her own business.

Losing her job was a blessing in disguise, Hodge said. She was now able to focus her attention on something she has always been passionate about, which was helping women deal with complicated menstruation symptoms through the use of “vaginal steaming.”

Vaginal steaming is a practice that seeks to offer women a holistic and natural approach to serious medical issues like infertility, ovarian cysts, fibroids, PCOS, endometrioses, and severe cramps.

LaToya Hodge took part in a 12-week program to help build up her business, HERYONISTY. (GV Wire/Liz Juarez)

Using what she learned in Betting Big, Hodge secured a building and wrote a five-year business plan. She also received help from the hub with money management, networking, and other marketing endeavors.

At first, Hodge says she wasn’t thinking big, but now she has her eyes on establishing partnerships with local OBGYNs and other health professionals. And, she wants to secure funding for a clinical study project.

“I didn’t have that vision at first when I was a home-based business,” said Hodge. “So with us being able to speak up on our business, being in that cohort opened the door of network for me to reach further and now my potential partners are youth counselors and specialists and OBGYNs.”

The study project titled, “Her Garden Womb Therapy” would study 100 women who have been diagnosed with a reproductive illness such as ovarian cancer, PCOS, uterine polyps, infertility, fibroids, or endometriosis and follow their symptoms through the use of vaginal steaming as an alternative to surgery or medication.

Dr. Cassandra Little is the chief executive officer of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce. (GV Wire/Liz Juarez)

What Does Betting Big Offer?

Betting Big is a 12-week classroom-based course that included one-on-one mentorship and support, as well as hands-on business development activities and professional consultation. Little says the program accelerates the knowledge that Black women need to be successful entrepreneurs.

“Research shows access to capital and contracts are two of the most significant barriers faced by small businesses owned by women and BIPOC across industries,” said Little.

Before the pandemic, between 2017 and 2019, Black-owned businesses were thriving among all sectors of the U.S. economy, states a report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

And, while recent reports show that Fresno had the fifth-most most minority-owned startups among mid-sized metropolitan areas, it’s not really about the number of businesses that open, but those that can stay in business long-term, says Little.

“It’s encouraging, but that’s where it kind of gets people tripped up,” said Little. “A lot of businesses opened, but for me, the thing is keeping those businesses open.”

Extra Funding for Betting Big

Little says they now have a waiting list for Betting Big enrollment and additional funding support of $1 million dollars from the California Office of Small Business Advocate for grants to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

These small businesses must agree to work with FMBCC for a year so that they can continue receiving the help they need to sustain their business success.

Betting Big is led by FMBCC through a partnership with Access Plus Capital, the Central Valley Community Foundation, and the Fresno DRIVE Economic Development initiative made possible by a $750,000 three-year investment from The James Irvine Foundation.

In addition, the program has received support from Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase.

Business Locations

You can visit B AWESUM’s website here, or the art gallery at River Park, 7786 N Blackstone Ave.

You can find more information on HERYONISTY’s services on there website or fill out an intake form here or visit the business at 1040 North Fulton Street.

Liz Juarez joined GV Wire in July, 2021 as a Digital News Producer. She has experience working for publications around the Central Valley including the Clovis Roundup, Porterville Recorder and Hanford Sentinel. While in college, she interned for Mountain West Athletics and served as Outreach Chair for the Fresno State Radio and Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). Liz earned a bachelor's degree in Media Communications and Journalism at Fresno State and a master's degree in Communications from Arizona State University. In her down time, she enjoys reading, drawing and staying active by playing basketball, taking trips to the coast and visiting national parks. You can contact Liz at liz.juarez@gvwire.com