Big Bad Business, a free entrepreneurship and mentoring program in north Mississippi, will give artists, business owners, inventors and startup enthusiasts an opportunity to develop ideas into their own sustainable small business.
The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council (YAC) and the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation (EDF) teamed up to start the series, giving Oxford residents an outlet for growing business ideas. The nine-month series of combined workshops designed to foster startups in north Mississippi was launched in January this year.
“The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council has been providing workshops and consultations since 2009 to create an Arts Incubator that fosters small businesses in the creative arts industry, which is 16 percent of the economy in Mississippi,” YAC outreach and education coordinator Meghan Gallagher said. “The Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce teamed up with us because they provide similar services, like the 2015 AdvoCare Challenge, which promotes small business startups.”
According to Gallagher, YAC executive director Wayne Andrews had the idea to start the series after he participated in the AdvoCare Challenge. He wanted both organizations to be able to combine resources and streamline efforts.
Businesses and entrepreneurs both will benefit from the workshops that teach general business knowledge.
Allen Kurr, vice president of the EDF, said the largest event to date was Venture Launch Weekend, held in February in partnership with the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Insight Park at the University of Mississippi.
“This 24-hour entrepreneurial development workshop featured innovative speaker Garret Gray, CEO of Next Gear Solutions, and a business pitch competition,” Kurr said. “Participants won prizes and were encouraged to continue working on their startups with their newfound mentors and team members.”
Gallagher said the workshops allow people who have little to no business knowledge to learn what they need to know in plain language in a forum that encourages questions and discussion.
“Here’s a series where they can connect with experts and get questions answered, and because it’s free, there’s no disadvantage economically to participating,” Gallagher said.
The series is aimed at access, and helping develop the support needed to succeed in the business world. Gallagher said the UM Small Business Development Center reported it takes eight consultations to ensure the success of a small business venture.
The main goal of YAC and the EDF is to support small business growth that in turn supports the growing Oxford community.
“People love football and the university, but it’s the small business owners, the restaurants, the boutique stores and galleries that provide a unique experience that distinguishes Oxford from other SEC town,” Gallagher said.
Kurr said the program is a local staple and a model of attracting and growing what he refers to as “tropical fish.”
“Most communities stick to the model of attracting ‘whale’ projects that tend to be large manufacturers that take hefty incentive packages to land,” Kurr said. “But we have found that the best way to grow Oxford without changing what we love about the community is to attract ‘tropical fish,’ otherwise known as entrepreneurial-minded people, small businesses and startups, which support our growth from within strategy.”
The next event in the series is titled “Cultivating Your Clientele: Best Practices,” featuring Julia Winston of Brave Communication LLC. It will be held at 6 p.m. in the Burns-Belfry Multicultural Center and Museum on May 8.
Winston has a degree in communication, a master’s degree in human resource development and is a certified professional and executive coach. She has been in the leadership industry for 10 years and has coached and trained leaders in organizations like Chick-fil-A, Baptist Memorial Hospital and USDA, according to her website.
There is no cost to attend, but registration is required. Those interested in attending can register at oxfordarts.com under the Arts Incubator section.
The series will continue through the summer with monthly workshops, culminating in an entrepreneurial celebration called “Night of Genius” on Sept. 14.
“The Big Bad Business series is not just for startups, nor is it just for artists,” Kurr said. “Anyone interested in business or professional development can enjoy this program. Whether you are interested in starting your own business, connecting with potential employers or growing your professional skills, there is something for everyone.”