Second round of diversity small business grants awarded to group of Springfield minority owners

Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 6:08 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 30, 2022 at 6:24 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - This week, five winners of the second round of ASCEND (Advancing Springfield, Missouri’s Commitment to Entrepreneurship, Networking & Diversity) grants were announced by the Downtown Springfield Association and US Bank.

After the success of the first round of ASCEND grants in June, five more Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)-owned small businesses were awarded $5,000 grants that hopefully will help secure new resources and empower BIPOC business owners.

“The Downtown Springfield Association is excited to recognize and support another outstanding group of local entrepreneurs,” DSA Executive Director Rusty Worley said. “Through the support of US Bank Foundation, opportunities have grown for BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) to create and expand businesses in Center City. We look forward to building on this momentum to offer more awards in 2023 with the experiences of our first two rounds of recipients.”

The grants are being awarded based on the identified needs of the new businesses and in conjunction with existing resources from the Springfield Finance & Development Corporation, the City of Springfield, and other community organizations.

Of the five new minority businesses awarded the funding, one is a unique kind of barbershop.

The Plaza Style barbershop just off Glenstone Avenue in south Springfield is run by Charlten Henderson, a licensed barber for four years and holds a master’s degree in counseling from MSU. He notes the barbershop in the Black community has historically been a safe, nonjudgmental space for men to talk about anything—sports, politics, religion, women, manhood. But he wants to use his position to disrupt the flow of conversation. Men are taught to be stoic and strong at all times. Rather than using the time to fill the space with chatter, his alternative is to use it to promote self-care practices as a part of being mentally healthy.

Charlten plans to use the ASCEND funds to learn new services and eventually grow his business, which combines his two chosen fields.

“One of the things I wanted to do was to promote one-on-one appointments to allow individuals to have those courageous conversations,” Henderson explained. “Things that they can’t say or probably wouldn’t say in an open shop. Especially with the men’s culture, you don’t always have people who are willing to seek counseling. So this is the middle ground where I can catch some of those things I wouldn’t catch in a counseling setting.”

The Riksha in downtown Springfield is another second-round grant recipient. The restaurant serves American-style Chinese food and has been around for over three decades but just changed ownership in the last year.

Sakiko Kong, a member of the ownership family, said the owners plan on reinvesting in their business and maybe expanding in the future to give back to the patrons who have always been so supportive and welcoming to them.

“Here in Springfield, people are more accepting of new things,” Kong explained. “So I think it’s good for us as a minority to push out some new things that will help people understand us more. We are getting new signage and furniture right now, and this may help with staff and remodeling. We are working on some marketing, too, so we will see what we can do. Within five to 10 years, we would love to add another location.”

The other three recipients are:

Lashes by Aja is owned by Aja Starks. She started her business not only because she enjoys making a difference in people’s lives through their self-confidence but also because to provide a better life for her three boys. She plans to use the ASCEND grant to buy 3-4 lash beds and the other materials needed for the lash techs to use. A long-term goal is to purchase a building for her business.

Crystal Campbell will own top Tier Shoes and Apparel. A native of Chicago, she and her children consider themselves “sneakerheads.” She has identified a shortage of exclusive sneakers and apparel in Springfield, and she wants to eliminate the need to travel to shop out-of-state for the latest releases. The ASCEND grant will allow her to put her plans into motion and start her first small business loan.

Snail Art House was created and initiated by Chloe Thome. She wanted to provide a collaborative creation space for artists who may not otherwise have access to a studio, retail space, and the opportunity to work with other artists. The group values slow art/fashion principles and recycled materials. ASCEND funding will be used to purchase a four-color screen-printing machine, photography backdrop, shared paint supplies, retail fixtures, and a shared computer.

Counting the first round in June, some $60,000 in ASCEND grants have been handed out to 10 businesses.

“They get the $5,000 to help them grow their business but also wrap-around services from the e-factory, the Multicultural Business Association, and the Downtown Springfield Association,” Worley pointed out. “Each business has its own set of needs. They can buy equipment, develop branding or get themselves in a position to get their first small business loan.”

And as to why this grant funding is so significant?

“Springfield is the most diverse area in southwest Missouri, but we have far too few minority business owners,” Worley answered. “The west-central neighborhood which comprises downtown has about a 20 percent minority population, but when you look at our small business ownership, less than five percent are a minority. That’s an area we have looked to grow for quite a while. Coming out of the pandemic, there’s a staffing and supply-chain shortages and inflation pressures, so this is a chance for us to support those emerging business owners and give them the financial and other resources they need to be successful.”

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