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by Chamidae Ford
This Thursday, April 29, at 6 p.m., Urban Impact will host their eighth annual Sharks at the Beach, a free virtual pitch event showcasing local entrepreneurs and their ventures. Urban Impact is a nonprofit organization that has been supporting the South Seattle community for 32 years.
“We were founded in 1987 with the mission of partnering with families and communities to break the cycle of social, material, and spiritual poverty,” B.J. Stewart, chief operations officer, said. “And really what that gives recognition to is that poverty [doesn’t just have] to do with one’s economic condition. It has to do with their social standing in the community and their spiritual standing as well. So as we execute our programs plans and implement our programs, it really addresses the whole person.”
Sharks at the Beach was created to focus on one of the pillars of Urban Impacts’ mission: addressing economic poverty.
“We did some additional listening to the community, holding focus groups and small group listening sessions. And out of that, we derived [that] where we were most capable and where we, organizationally, had the capability and passion was around entrepreneurship,” Stewart said. “The cycle of poverty is very complex and there’s not one kind of singular thing that an organization can do that fully addresses the cycle of poverty or break[s] the cycle of poverty. But for sure economic sustainability through entrepreneurship is one of those tools in the toolbox the community can employ. So that then led to the launch of Sharks at the Beach, and it is our introductory to business program.”
Thursday will be the final event to round off the 12-week program. The ten finalists will pitch their businesses to a panel of judges for a shot at the first-place prize, which offers monetary support for their business. The program provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into a reality.
“It’s an entrepreneurship program that focuses on microenterprise startups or those in enterprises that are very early stage and haven’t quite got their legs under themselves. So we provide support to those aspiring entrepreneurs and those early-stage enterprises so they can grow to a level of sustainability and position themselves for growth,” Stewart said.
Sharks at the Beach centers its curriculum around three main aspects of business: networks, knowledge, and funding.
“As we engage with small businesses in the communities that we serve, primarily Seattle under-resourced communities, they lack three things. One, they don’t have the depth of relationships, the network to garner the resources that they need. So there’s a big relationship gap. Secondly, there’s a knowledge gap. They just don’t have the information and knowledge to effectively address the issues that they face. And then, maybe most obviously, they don’t have the cash,” Stewart said. “So as we implement and execute our Sharks at the Beach program, one, we build social capital through mentorship and coaching, closing that relationship gap. We build knowledge capital through experiential business training. And then, providing these folks capital, either providing it directly through events like Sharks at the Beach or connecting them with the organizations who can provide them the resources that they need.”
The program has evolved over the last eight years as its scope continues to expand.
“One of the things that we … discovered is that, as we began to attract more entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs whose ideas were a little bit more sophisticated, their needs also became broader,” Stewart said. “We realized a couple of years ago that we really needed a microenterprise curriculum that specifically meets the needs of these urban entrepreneurs. So this year is the first year that we fully implemented the microenterprise-specific training program that more fully meets the needs of the entrepreneurs that [Urban Impact] attracts. [It] really addresses concepts that they can immediately take home and apply into their enterprises.”
Ultimately, Sharks at the Beach represents a chance to honor and support the success of local entrepreneurs.
“Sharks at the Beach is a community celebration,” Stewart said. “Really the community coming together to celebrate these entrepreneurs graduating, if you may, through this 12-week program. And if they haven’t launched their enterprise, getting ready to launch their enterprise or continuing to grow and develop their enterprises if they are already in existence.”
You can watch the virtual pitch event on the Urban Impact Facebook page.
Chamidae Ford is currently a senior journalism major at the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. You can reach Chamidae Ford at IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
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