07 28 2015
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Be your own Boss session at Self Enhancement Inc.

Go to school. Get a job. Make a career.

It’s the most commonly promoted path for the American worker. But Self Enhancement Inc. has a different message this summer: work for yourself.

“Be Your Own Boss” is the title of an in-progress workshop series the North Portland nonprofit is offering this summer to empower Black Americans with the knowledge necessary to be a successful entrepreneur in today’s field.

“I think it’s just really important to give opportunities, just kind of leveling that playing field of access to opportunities to be your own boss, to start your own business,” said Melissa Hicks, community and family programs supervisor at Self Enhancement Inc.

SEI filled all 20 of its available spots within hours of announcing the program last month, according to Hicks.

Workshop topics include transforming an idea to a business, marketing, reaching the right customer and perhaps the most important thing in the business world: building revenue.

In addition to the program for adults, SEI is also offering entrepreneur classes at their middle and high school programs this summer. In the program titled Black Oregon Social Startup Innovators (or “BOSSI”), students will create their own logo and poster for the business along with an executive summary of their mission all of which will be also be on display during the pitch fest.

Twenty high school students will spend a month learning about the unique business opportunities available to Oregonians, and subsequently use that knowledge to create their own imaginary startup, complete with a business plan.

The startups will then be pitched to area professionals, in an event mirroring the popular ABC television series “Shark Tank,” on Aug. 4 at Self Enhancement Inc., in an event that is free and open to the public.

The middle school students are exploring what building their own business to solve a community problem would look like — so-called “social entrepreneurship.”

Nadya Okamoto, a 17-year-old senior at Catlin Gabel who started her own non-profit, Camions of Care, distributing feminine hygiene products to houseless women several years ago will serve as a facilitator for BOSSI, working with peers not much younger than her.

The possibility of creating one’s own business, Okomoto said, is not something most kids her age think about.

“I think that’s my favorite part about working with SEI, is that they are so aware about the issues that are happening in their community and they’re aware of the injustices. But they’ve really never considered their ability to create change, and I think that’s why this program is so empowering,” said Okomoto.

As for the adults, they’ll have an array of area-professionals come in to share their expertise.

Leaders include Joy Davis of Design+Culture Lab, Tique Box founder, Paige Hendrix, startup mentor Dwayne Johnson, and founder of the nonprofit bar Oregon Public House Stephen Green.

The Small Business Administration will also come in to share with the aspiring business-owners opportunities for government contracts, something Hicks says is an underutilized resource by Blacks in business.

Hicks points out that often funding opportunities for startups are small due to the high risk that comes with new ventures.

“A lot of folks shy away from that because it’s like, ‘The government, that’s scary,’” Hicks. “Catering [is an option] -- they hold workshops and events. There’s lawn care for their public events, there’s a lot of opportunities for the people to have the government as one of their customers and I don’t think that’s well known.”

Overall, Hicks said the programming being offered by SEI this summer is about sharing resources and knowledge, and possibly create some new ways of thinking about Oregon entrepreneurship.

“It’s up to them whatever business they come up with — whatever idea they’re looking at,” Hick said.

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