Small business program helps Frayser entrepreneurs reach their full potential

Frayser entrepreneurs will have another opportunity to build their ideas into money-making businesses as Epicenter is set to welcome a new CO.STARTERS: Frayser Connect class on Wednesday, Aug. 3. 

Nancy Brownlee, program manager for Epicenter Memphis. (Photo: Epicenter Memphis)“Some people just need those basics, those foundational guidelines to guide them and that’s what Co-Starter does. It seems like once we start a cohort, everyone wants to know when the next one is,” says Nancy Brownlee, program manager for Epicenter Memphis. “There’s a lot of interest around and we make it affordable to get into it.”

The team-based, 11-week program covers a variety of interrelated topics, beginning with knowing yourself. This zen-sounding principal will test assumptions, working styles, team building, and common obstacles to success. After a practice pitch in week 10, graduates are thrown a celebration party before they use their new-found skills to grow or get their businesses off the ground. 

In between, they get to know their customer base, craft a message, and learn how to finance their business from the ground up. 

“During that time each week, they are going to meet with different guest speakers that are speaking on that subject matter specifically,” Brownlee says. “If they are to miss a particular week, they’re missing out on vital networks and connections that could help their business.”

While there will be opportunities to learn something vital each week, there’s also another reason for Frayser entrepreneurs to attend: potential investors will be lurking about for the next potential wealth generator.

“We’re letting big people drop in, so you might have an investor here one night and you’re always pitching your idea. You’re constantly working through it, so one-hundred percent participation is vital for this to be very beneficial,” Brownlee says.

Tools and resources

One graduate of the year-old program is Frayser resident Charia Jackson. The mother of two, who holds a masters degree in City and Regional Planning, is also the founder of Real Urban Concepts, a real estate firm that focuses on “acquiring property in urban Black neighborhoods” — like Frayser — “and developing the spaces into income-producing properties.”

Charia Jackson, founder of Real Urban Concepts. (Photo: Real Urban Concepts)“Real Urban Concepts was over a year old when I decided to participate in the CO.STARTERS program,” Jackson says. “The program curriculum aided my business idea in realizing its true potential to serve urban Black neighborhoods by investing in real estate projects and being a true advocate for the community it serves.”

In addition to turning properties profitable, the minority- and women-owned business features a consulting arm. While informing community members of policies “that effect their livelihood,” it also encourages private investment in their communities.

“CO.STARTERS impacted my business by giving me tools and resources that would help me sustain the company for years to come. As a developer working in the Frayser area, I was also able to connect with other business owners and learn about their need for spaces for their operations,” says Jackson, who is also Deputy Director for the Frayser CDC.

The Frayser CDC nonprofit operates Frayser Connect, which Epicenter uses as a sounding board for its programs.

It’s evident that Frayser residents want genuine, locally-owned small businesses that reflect the needs and preferences of the community. These run from restaurants to fitness centers and back again — brick-and-mortar stores of all kinds. They also underscore the need for services in a community where many of the businesses hand out orders through a side window.

“Right now, [what’s in demand are] restaurants, spas, gyms…things like that. More recreational spots for folks, that’s what they’re looking for right now,” Brownlee says. “Restaurants — they want a variety and not chains. That’s something that’s very sought after right now…Coffee shops, sit-down places where they’re safe and comfortable.”

Looking ahead

With needs pretty much across the board, entrepreneurs in specific industries could be pooled together in future cohorts to maximize opportunities for everybody involved. 

“The future curriculums for 2023 are going to look a little different. We are looking to do more industry-based cohorts. So, if we have a cohort that is full of restauranteurs, we are going to fill that one up and just make it based on the food industry,” Brownlee says.

To further reflect the neighborhood, those giving the know-how are the ones that understand what it takes to run a business in Frayser.

“Right now, we just trained new facilitators that are from Frayser, so it’s going to look a little bit different, having business owners from within the community actually teach them about business in the community,” Brownlee says.

The program is also being crafted to reflect the realities of life for students and facilitators. Although the start date is set and the hours are 6 to 9 p.m., Epicenter is open to the idea of holding meetings on-site at 1635 Georgian Dr., or even virtually and through Zoom meetings, for example.

“We are allowing people to have a little bit more flexibility because life happens; school is about to start,” Brownlee says. “As long as the majority of the class can come together on a particular night, they can really do it anywhere they want to, whether they make it virtual or otherwise. We’re giving them the option to do it [so they can reach] 100 percent participation.”

The cohort runs through Oct. 19. Registration fee and materials cost $50. Attendees must live in the 38127 zip code. To learn more call (901) 500-6368 or visit
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Read more articles by Jim Coleman.

Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.