CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In its first year of operation, the Black Business Association Supporting Entrepreneurs has accomplished some goals but leaders say there is more work to be done.
"People are loving (BBASE)," said director John Gaddis. "It's something that's well overdue and needed."
BBASE operates out of West Virginia State University's Economic Development Center on Kanawha Boulevard on Charleston's West Side. It provides free business workshops, mentorships, monthly networking meetings, office space rental opportunities and works to build a black business directory throughout the state.
"There are probably more small, minority-owned businesses out there than you realize," Gaddis added.
He owns a business himself and hopes BBASE will allow business owners to share what has worked and what hasn't with other minority entrepreneurs.
"We're trying to take the best practices of other organizations and work with the business owners themselves," Gaddis said.
The most recent Survey of Business Owners provided by 2007 Census data shows West Virginia doesn't not have enough black-owned firms to meet publication standards as a percentage. From that same data set, West Virginia had 3.7 percent minority owned firms.
Nationwide, minority-owned firms accounted for 21.3 of overall firms and black-owned firms accounted for 7.1 percent.
Michael Pless is one of those business owners that has benefited from the Economic Development Center and BBASE.
"I was new to West Virginia," Pless said. "I was looking for a tech company to work as IT support, but I couldn't find one."
Pless now owns and operates his own business, ED-U-TECH, and provides technical support for the EDC and BBASE workshops.
"They opened up a lot of doors for me," Pless said. "The other organizations I work with now are mainly because of this."
BBASE's Charleston operation is equipped with two large meeting rooms fully equipped with technology. The center also features editing stations with expensive software many entrepreneurs can't afford starting out, Pless said.
The center also has a green room for commercials.
Pless said his business is growing. He has worked with Second Life and the Charleston Family Development Corp.
"People have always come to me for resources," said Sandra Moss. "It's about being able to help us help our businesses."
Moss, who works as a communications and resource director for BBASE, said small businesses drive the economy and it's important to make sure everyone is connected.