Auburn University’s EDA University Center Assists Minority Businesses Through Training and Mentorship April 16, 2021

Jennifer Ryan

Man and woman in office setting looking at a laptop screen together.

As part of an Economic Development Administration University Center grant, The Government and Economic Development Institute partnered with Harbert College of Business Associate Professor, Dr. LaKami Baker, to host an eight-week training program for minority small business entrepreneurs. The program was presented in collaboration with the Western Communities Redevelopment Alliance (WCRA) and titled “The Invincible Small Business Series: Creating, Delivering, and Capturing Value Post COVID-19”.

WCRA serves urban and rural communities lacking economic development capacity through support and coordination of resources. “The Invincible Small Business Series” was about challenging minority small business owners to reinvent their business, compete on superior business models, transcend industry boundaries, and create more value in an effort to become invincible.

The idea for the program came from Jeremy Duckworth, Executive Director of WCRA. “I contacted Dr. Baker with Auburn’s EDA University Center about conducting a small business accelerator program in my community. She was very receptive to the idea and developed a program that included eight, one-hour online classes with activities and homework assignments. The topics were designed to add the most value to small business owners and the program was well received,” Duckworth said.

Twenty-five businesses submitted video applications detailing their business needs and what they could bring to their communities if selected to participate in the program. A selection committee reviewed the applications and selected 10 people to participate in the program. In the end, nine students completed the program in its entirety and received certificates of completion during a virtual graduation ceremony in August of 2020.

“The feedback from the participants has been overwhelmingly positive”, said Duckworth. “Most of the comments I got were ‘Where has this been all my life?’ and ‘When can we do more programs like this?’, Duckworth explained. “Several of the businesses who participated in the program are already having success. One of the program graduates has been able to secure some funding through a private funder based on the work done refining their value proposition in the class,” Duckworth added.

Ariel Smith, owner of The Food Truck Scholar blog and podcast, found the program to be especially useful and engaging. “Dr. Baker was very intent on making this program one that would work for small business owners. Each session was packed with useful content and information, and examples of how each topic could be directly applied to our individual businesses,” Smith said. “We also got feedback from classmates and on the spot consulting from our peers. Having someone explain the concepts and how we can engage with our various customer channels was huge for me. I will definitely replay the recorded sessions so I can go back again and revisit key points and ideas as my business grows and changes,” Smith stated.

Reginald Davis, Owner of Heartful Echoes, a Christian based clothing company had a similar reaction. “Dr. Baker was phenomenal,” he said. “I appreciate her hands on approach and how she walked us through the topics and made them easy to understand.” Davis added, “She helped me narrow down my vision so I can effectively manage my business and pinpoint actions with my customer channels to help me get my products to the consumers.”

The training program focused on breaking down the elements of the business model canvas and working with the business owners on refining their business models. The program culminated with students presenting a revised business model for their business based on the new business environment with a specific focus on clarifying their value proposition, identifying their customer segments, and detailing how they will get, retain, and grow their customer base.

Program graduates are:

  • Corey Bishop - Refresh Clothes 2
  • Reginald Davis - Heartful Echoes
  • Andrea McIntosh - Milestone Barbers
  • Ariel Smith - The Food Truck Scholar
  • Michael Gould - E21 Realty
  • Yolanda Sullivan - Penny Foundation
  • Jennifer Elizabeth Duckworth - Neighbor Foundations
  • Tanesha Sims-Summers - Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn
  • Jeremy Duckworth - Western Communities Redevelopment Alliance

GEDI provides these services to small businesses and entrepreneurs through a Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) University Center grant. Auburn’s EDA University Center program is a partnership among The Government and Economic Development Institute, The Harbert College of Business, and the Office of External Engagement. For more information on Auburn’s EDA University Center, please contact David Mixson at 334.844.4704, or via email at or visit

Last Updated: March 21, 2022