Baltimore entrepreneurship program for moms expanding

With feathers on her eyelashes and glitter everywhere else, it was clear that Takia Ross’ true calling was not as a history teacher.

Ross dolled up friends at her kitchen table in South Baltimore, but she never considered trading in her stable teaching job at a city school and, later, the Community College of Baltimore County, that supported her family of four.

Until, that is, she saw her former students walk in their high school graduation, faces glowing with pride and Ross’ shimmering eye shadows.

“For me it was just one of those moments,” Ross said. “It wasn’t just about the makeup — that’s what I realized. It’s about the feeling of confidence that women get when they put makeup on, when you get to speak power as a woman.”

Ross credits a local entrepreneurship organization with helping turn her passion into her profession. Over the past four years Moms as Entrepreneurs has grown from a podcast by two Baltimore-area business owners to an in-demand training course and network of three dozen women entrepreneurs.

Now the group is getting bigger, with an $85,000 grant from the Kauffman Foundation to launch a training academy with Baltimore makerspace Open Works and Etsy, an e-commerce site for handmade items. Etsy is contributing an additional $25,000 to the initiative.

Over the next two years, the Moms as Entrepreneurs Makers Academy at Open Works will offer two 15-week programs a year, each with between eight and 10 participants — all mothers who want to start a business selling something they make. The program comes with child care during sessions and membership at Open Works or Cube, a co-working space in Towson.

The program aims to give women the business skills and support system they need to start a company, with the goal of improving families’ financial and social stability, said Tammira Lucas, a co-founder of Moms as Entrepreneurs. In addition to providing a secondary income source, starting a business can help parents show children the value of drive, dedication and doing something you love.

“You mimic what your parents do, whether you want to admit that or not,” Lucas said. “If your children can see you’re following your dreams and stepping out and doing the things you do, they will go out and do the same. They will be the go-getters.”

Lucas and business partner Jasmine Simms started Moms as Entrepreneurs in 2014 because they wanted to do something to help youth in the city where they grew up. The partnership with Open Works will target prospective entrepreneurs in East Baltimore.

“The root of the problem is not always the children but where they’re coming from,” Lucas said. “We figured that if we could find a solution to the root of the problem, we could really help the community.”

The training program covers business basics, such as insurance, sales strategy, marketing and financing, a significant challenge for small women- and minority-led businesses. Child care is included during classes, and participants keep in touch to help each other troubleshoot issues.

Ross said the program’s practical lessons about business insurance, building inspections and building a client base helped her makeup artistry business, Accessmatized, take off.

In March, she left her teaching job to focus on the company full time. A single mother, the decision was one of the most difficult Ross has ever made, she said, but also one of the most rewarding.

“Just think about all the years we give to another business — you help this business grow, you give them all your ideas, your time, your energy,” Ross said. “I wanted to really see what would happen if I gave all that energy to myself and something I created.”

Since going into business for herself, Ross said she has noticed a change in her once-cautious daughter, who used to shy away from activities that were new.

“I’ve seen her blossom in ways I would have never thought,” she said. “I think because she sees me trying new things.”

While starting a business is a risky endeavor, it can help parents overcome challenges to balancing work and family, said Terrell Williams, a co-director of BUILD’s Turnaround Tuesday job training program.

Parents working entry-level jobs, for example, often don’t have the luxury of taking a personal day or working remotely if the kids are sick or home from school on a snow day, said Williams, who serves on Open Works’ board. Skipping work could mean lost wages and, possibly, a lost job.

“Today Baltimore City had a two-hour delay and decided at 8 a.m. we’ll have no school today,” Williams said on one recent snow day. “What would that do to some of our parents who are working at entry-level jobs who don’t have a lot of capital and can’t have a lot of excuses?”

After a decade in the accounting business, Aneka Winstead, 32, of Rosedale, decided to start her own firm, WATT Business Solutions, as a way to set her own hours, and spend more time with her growing family and husband.

“I wanted to have something for them,” said Winstead, who has three children between six months and 9 1/2 years. “Entrepreneurship is something I want to provide them and let them see me doing. I wanted to be able to create a family business for them.”

Winstead, who has a master’s degree in business, said the Moms as Entrepreneurs program made her think about details she hadn’t considered, such as branding her business and establishing a target market, and made her feel more prepared.

The Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City-based organization that supports education and entrepreneurship initiatives, awarded the grant to Moms as Entrepreneurs and Open Works late last year.

“We believe that everyone has a fundamental right to turn an idea into an economic reality, regardless of who they are or where they’re from,” said Chris Harris, a senior program officer at the Kauffman Foundation.

The Open Works partnership will help Moms as Entrepreneurs reach more women, Lucas said.

The group has planned two evening information sessions at Open Works Jan. 22 and Feb. 8 (children are welcome) and set up a Facebook page with more information.

Keisha Ransome, of Baltimore Etsy Sellers, a group of local artists and designers who sell products on Etsy, said she hopes the opportunity attracts women who have long wanted to pursue an idea but have been unsure where to start.

During the program, Ransome, 38, will teach lessons she learned launching an Etsy clothing boutique, 2live2love, such as how to write compelling product descriptions and take quality photos of merchandise.

“Sometimes when you’re trying to do something, to know you have people who are invested in your success and are giving you all the tools is totally empowering and gives you an advantage,” she said.

Myra Chapman, 37, said the most valuable part of the program was the network of women she met, who gave her confidence she would be able to balance running her own business, Naturally Chic Hair Salon, and being a mom to a teenage son.

Chapman said she likes when her son comes to the Fort Avenue salon because he sees her at work, doing something she loves, and pitches in with keeping up the shop.

“When I was younger I didn’t look at it as an option,” she said. “I think it’s important that he knows that if this is something he wants to do he can do it.”

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

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