In a recent business pitch competition, the Enterprise Center at PathStone, an affiliate of PathStone Corp., awarded three women entrepreneurs a total of $8,000 in prizes to use toward the advancement of their business. The organization plans to continue working with minority entrepreneurs and homeowners, growing its business portfolio from $6 million to $25 million over the next five years.
Established in 1997, the Enterprise Center is a recognized community development financial institution. In 2012, the organization expanded its operations, now serving business owners in Western New York, surrounding counties, and Puerto Rico.
Unlike commercial bank institutions, the organization is not in the business of providing loans and capital alone. The center enhances economic self-sufficiency for the underserved small-business owners it works with, offering entrepreneurial training and technical assistance alongside loan products.
“It is our main goal to not only fund projects but also increase the capacity of our communities, our leaders and of the individuals that come to us looking for assistance so that they are able to maximize the possibilities of getting a successful business up and running,” says Javier Zapata-Rodríguez, president and executive director. Zapata-Rodríguez has been with the center since 2012.
Financial assistance for entrepreneurs includes a variety of loan products, ranging from $500 to $250,000 in the form of a fixed-interest small-business loan, line of credit or a veteran loan. Homeowners can also work with the center to receive a closing cost or home improvement loan.
Where the Enterprise Center shines is in its program of pre-loan and post-loan technical assistance. The organization’s team of business development officers in both New York and Puerto Rico work one-on-one with clients, identifying the loan product that is best suited for them and finding the best technical assistance program to meet the needs of their business.
The Enterprise Center has identified a strong need for startup programming. As a result, its series of annual business education workshops have been a form of technical assistance frequently taken advantage of by clients.
An example, a workshop series in collaboration with Rochester Economic Development Corp., is the Loan Readiness Training Series. This virtual eight-week intensive workshop for Rochester- and Buffalo-area entrepreneurs guides them from ideation to building a business plan and loan package.
At the end of this series, a subgroup of participants is invited to compete in an elevator pitch contest for the chance to earn a prize to use toward future business endeavors. The three winners of the most recent pitch competition were all women.
The first-place winner of a $5,000 prize was Shannon Halligan. She is the founder of the Rochester-based Halligan Creative Arts Therapy PPLC, which provides art therapy services for adolescents, teens, and adults. She recently opened another location of her business in Ithaca.
Stacey Mrva, a metal sculptor from Springwater, took home the second-place prize of $2,000. She offers welding workshops, focusing on functional fine art and striving to empower women through welding.
The third-place prize of $1,000 went to Lauren Cary. She is the owner of Full Style Beauty LLC in Niagara Falls, providing cosmetology services.
Another workshop series organized by the Enterprise Center has also uplifted women entrepreneurs over the past three years. Similar to the loan-readiness series, She Means Business is another virtual intensive specifically for women entrepreneurs.
The first-place winner of the 2023 She Means Business pitch competition was Monique Chatman, the owner of the Groom Room Men’s Spa & Lounge in Rochester. She used her $5,000 prize for advertising and acquiring additional skills to reach more clientele and add services. Chatman’s take on the training series: “It helped me organize my business for expansion.”
Along with creating more success stories for small-business owners, the Enterprise Center has an ambitious future ahead. The organization is working on a strategic plan for the next five years and growing its business portfolio.
Since there are only about 1,500 CDFIs nationwide, the Enterprise Center also hopes to leverage parent company PathStone’s footprint to expand and continue to meet the needs of emerging entrepreneurs.
“Hopefully in the future there will be 10,000 CDFIs, but right now we are not there,” says Zapata-Rodríguez. “We want to make sure that we cater our services to even more communities that have the need, because a lot of need still exists out there.”
Evan Coleman is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and a recent University of Rochester graduate. The Rochester Beacon’s coverage of local nonprofits is made possible through a generous grant from the Glover-Crask Charitable Trust.