Startups

EnrichDelaware! prioritizes in-person collaboration. A cohort company helped the bizdev program stay IRL

The Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce program that helps small minority-owned businesses grow got a boost from one of its own members.

The EnrichDelaware! cohort, meeting safely in person.

(Courtesy photo)

Remote work has increased flexibility for plenty of pros during the pandemic. But for an environment that’s meant to be collaborative, that can mean loss of connection to coworkers — or, say, members of a learning cohort for minority business owners.

That was the case for EnrichDelaware!. Last summer, the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce (DBCC) launched the program via a partnership with the national nonprofit Interise that uses its StreetWise MBA curriculum to train local minority business owners to create their own three-year strategic growth plans.

The six-month program has a mission to address barriers to minority business growth and empower minority business owners. It’s currently in the middle of its second cohort, meeting once every two weeks for peer mentoring, access to local experts and lessons on business development strategy, financial management, marketing, sales and accessing capital, among other topics.

Two members of its current cohort, Jhalil and Shinera Adams, have been in business for more than six years as His and Hers Cleaning and Utility Services, offering everything from residential cleaning to maintenance, painting and commercial cleaning, including COVID-19 sanitization. As DBCC members, they learned about the EnrichDelaware! program when someone from the org reached out and invited them to join.

“We didn’t know too much about it,” Shinera Adams told Technical.ly. “But once they sent this invitation, I did look into it. We wanted to get involved because this was something new, and we’re always open to new things that can take our business to the next level, to get us known and for us to be a part of something more.”

The program is designed to be in person, with participants — the current cohort has 14 — sitting in a horseshoe as they interact with each other and their class leaders, professor Brenné Shepperson and mentor Kim Rice.

The cohort began in September 2021, and, as you could guess, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 pushed classes on to Zoom. It was something the Adamses had seen their kids struggle with when school went remote.

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“We we watched our our kids go to school via Zoom, and there’s so many distractions in the background at home,” Jhalil Adams said. “And in [EnrichDelaware!] class, we can have these in-person meetings and talk and identify with each other. Just last week, we talked about the market and what it’s doing right now. Surprisingly, everyone in the class was going through the same thing, so that was a huge morale boost. That can’t be felt on Zoom.”

Jhalil and Shinera Adams

Jhalil and Shinera Adams. (Courtesy photo)

Not wanting to miss classroom time due to safety concerns — but not wanting to disregard those concerns, either — the Adamses took the resources they had and offered COVID-19 sanitizing services for the classroom at no cost, which, combined with masking and a U-shaped social distanced seating plan, would make the in-person classes more COVID safe.

“That actually facilitated us to continue holding classes live as opposed to on Zoom,” Rice said. “That gesture just took us all by surprise. We all talked about it with the board, and they felt like there was enough room in the place where we have the class. And that’s where it took off.”

One of the deliverables for the class is the strategic growth plan. While the course still has a couple of months to go until the cohort graduates in April, the Adamses have already set some goals for their three-year plan, such as hiring at least 100 employees; currently, the couple contracts workers when they get large jobs.

Like many Black-owned businesses, His and Hers is working to help marginalized communities. That’s why they plan to hire, not just contract, young people from the city or people who may struggle with finding jobs. They also look to help others build up their careers as managers in other parts of the region.

“Everywhere we go, they see how young we are,” Jhalil Adams said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, how do we get that?’ We plan to build it up and then let those people manage their own facility. Not franchise necessarily, but different managers. We plan to do it the unconventional way.”

The shift back to IRL learning has been a boon for the class, including its leaders. Shepperson credits the Adamses with sparking a change.

“The other students love their drive,” she said. “I appreciate the solutions that they bring to the forefront. Because I, too, do better in in-person as far as teaching.”

EnrichDelaware! is supported by partnerships with Wilmington Alliance and Cornerstone West CDC, two of Wilmington’s economic development organizations. Wilmington Alliance has also supported the newly launched Wilmington Kitchen Collective, as well as Technical.ly’s 2020 Seeking Equity in Wilmington reporting series on what’s working — and what isn’t — in supporting Black and Latinx founders.

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