Entrepreneur Peer Competition at Oakland HOPE Center

May 2, 2012 marked the final day of the Oakland HOPE Centers Entrepreneurship Program. Each cohort ends with the entrepreneurs participating in the highly anticipated, Peer Competitions.    In the beginning of the winter class session, each individual was placed into one of five peer groups for support and communication during the 12-week session.  

Class was expected to begin at 6pm as usual, and attendees trickled in from 5:45 through 6:35.  Instructor Sonja Brooks began by showing some videos of past Graduation presentations, so the class has an idea of what to expect.  Sonja explained that the final presentation (on May 9th) will be at a Bank of the West location in Oakland at the Fruitvale Station Shopping Center.  The invite was sent out using the social networking site Evite.  There was extensive discussion on the presentations that we reviewed.

The first presenter of the evening was Brigitte Cook.  Over the course of the training Brigitte’s business ventures plans changed and veered into a new direction and she is now working on a new project similar to the LA garment district when an opportunity for a location presents itself.  Brigitte’s company is Hollis Street Exchange.  The company will work to provide retail space to small businesses. Her presentation was approximately 8.5 minutes long.

 The next presenter was Nealy Shawn, who began her presentation by greeting each and every member of the audience with a greeting and a shake of the hand.  Her presentation covered her company The Natural Teacher that works to strengthen the connection between students and teachers.  Her presentation was 7.40 minutes long.  

Following Nealy’s presentation, follow-up questions were asked and Sonja gave feedback on the presentation.  Nealy clarified that there is currently no organization or program that focuses specifically on the particular interaction/connection teachers have with students and her passion is to focus on strengthening that aspect of the schooling system. 

A poignant question that Sonja presented to the whole class at this point was if “there was a teacher in your past that had a strong impression on you?”  Each member of the class mentioned a teacher that had a significant effect on them and what subject they taught; this was a very strong discussion point amongst the group.

Wynona Fuller was our next presenter – a Barber, formerly a cosmetologist in Oakland who wants to provide her services primarily to the elderly.   Wynona detailed her qualifications in the business, her connection with her customers and her plan to cater to the elderly.  Wynona has already established her business and wants to expand it further and train an apprentice.  Her presentation was approximately 3.5 minutes long.

After Wynona’s presentation, Sonja followed up by congratulating Wynona for staying in class and not giving up despite the tough pace and further explained the benefits of each step that class members take in this course.  Sonja also suggested that during the course of the program, we should keep in mind who we can partner with i.e. contemplate whether our businesses would jive well with another member’s business.  For example, Ms. Fuller, who’s target market is the elderly can receive referrals from another member who works with therapy for the elderly (specifically with drivers who transport the elderly).   Both these businesses can grow together.

 Jeff Vasconcellos of Habitat Gardens presented next with an accompanying PowerPoint presentation.  Jeff is the owner of a landscaping business and explained in detail his goals and aspirations for the business.  Jeff took several questions after his presentation and was very knowledgeable about the business.  Jeff presented for 3 minutes, 49 seconds.

Our next presenter, Cindy McCullough is an entrepreneur establishing her new business Sassy Unique Jewelry.  Cindy had 2 models show her jewelry and she presented for about 6.25 minutes.  Cindy got into the jewelry business after a bout of health issues and hardship when she decided to go into business.  She designs her own jewelry as well as selling jewelry from other suppliers and manufacturers.  After presenting at several shows to establish herself, she now has multiple locations and is looking to further expand her business.

Laquita Stokes is owner of High Maintenance Boutique.  Sonja encouraged Laquita to focus on her target market to capture the image, the character of ‘the woman’ she wants to be her main customer.   What makes her the ‘it’ woman for High Maintenance Boutique.    Our guest speaker for the day Harold asked Laquita a question to help in that direction “whether she wants that lawyer or is she looking just for the ‘sister jackson’ .  Harold also suggested that Laquita partner or talk to his sister who is in the business and Laquita was a bit skeptical because of a negative experience she had with confiding in a ‘friend’/’acquaintance’.  Laquita has great confidence in her abilities as a salesperson and is inspiring in that aspect, she presented for 2.31 minutes.

Lavell Russell aspiring owner of World Pleasure Café presented next.   Sonja suggested that Lavell not merely read during his presentation but to make eye contact and present to the audience using bullet points and expanding on them in his own words.  Cover more about the source and the cost of the coffee, his suppliers and comparison to his competitors.   A member of the audience suggested that he research the coffee very well and that it could take up to 3 months or more to select coffees to carry.

Breath For Life was our next presenter, Amina Grant-Huang’s future business.  Amina’s business is aimed at promoting health and wellness through Tui-Na, acupuncture and Chinese traditional massage therapy.  Amina explained her views on alternative healthcare while distributing around the room, some documents to support her presentation.  Amina presented for approximately 8.37 minutes.

In closing, of the pre-graduation Peer Competition, Ms. Brooks explained that after ten weeks of group participation there should not be any reason to feel nervous amongst peers.  She encouraged everyone to feel relaxed in their presentation, but to be steadfast and convincing about the viability of their businesses. Great job to all presenters and we look forward to a wonderful graduation.

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