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Minority business association promotes entrepreneurship

Kenny Kemp
Michael Pless and Sandra Moss talk shop at the Black Business Association Supporting Entrepreneurs office at the West Virginia State University offices on Kanawha Boulevard.
Kenny Kemp Pless works with audio editing software available to entrepreneurs at BBASE's Charleston headquarters.

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.

Moss, Gaddis and other BBASE founders started the organization with their own money. Currently, Moss, along with others, is working on grant writing to attain more funds.

"It's about having access to the resources needed," Moss said.

BBASE offers mentors for accounting, business planning and patent writing.

They have provided seminars on credit scores and to try to educate community members on business loans.

"People think that is a given but a lot of people don't know," Moss said.

Moss hopes with future funding they will be able to offer workshops on a consistent schedule. Currently, about 15 business professionals volunteer their time to provide workshops, Moss said.

The idea is to show them how it works from start to finish.

"People come in here with business ideas all the time and don't think its possible to start a business," Moss said. "There's no one there to help them write a business plan or even know how to write a business plan. We help give them that."

BBASE's initiatives haven't gone unnoticed. Moss has been contacted from chambers of commerce in Chicago and upstate New York asking to start their own BBASE chapter.

As BBASE's footprint continues to grow in the Kanawha Valley, Moss hopes its impact will reach statewide.

"The great thing about this is, there are a lot of black businesses in Charleston, and the state of West Virginia has no clue," Moss said.

BBASE hopes to start providing micro loans in the near future for local entrepreneurs. Moss said all of BBASE's services are open to all races.

Moss also hopes to start working more with middle school-age kids getting them interested in the professional world.

"It's the idea of knowing you can actually do it," Moss said. "If you can instill that idea into a small child and they knew someone who actually did it, to them it seems possible."

To learn more about the organization, visit www.bbase.org.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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