Venture Fund Fuels Dreams of MCC Student Entrepreneurs
LOWELL -- Alison Njoroge remembers Dec. 19 as though it were yesterday.
After an intensive semester in Middlesex Community College’s Launch Your Business Now program, she finally reaped the rewards: an $8,000 investment to get her hair boutique out of her dreams and into operation.
“I was so honored, excited and ecstatic. I couldn’t help but think now this is where the (real) work begins,” she said. “I had laid my foundation of the business and now that I received seed money, I was ready to go to work.”
The Everyday Entrepreneurs Venture Fund gave out $50,000 in seed funding between six MCC students who pitched their business ventures following the completion of the Launch Now program.
The top earners were Hilary Clark of Lowell and Jessica Salani of Burlington, who each received $10,000 for their respective businesses. Dali Diaz of Lowell got the third-highest package with $9,000. Juan Cintron and Njoroge, both of Lowell, received an $8,000 investment. The Venture Fund closed out the awards by giving Dave Clark of Lowell $5,000.
The students’ businesses are diverse, with some ideas being a mobile barber service, sustainable home-goods store and a natural- and kinky-hair boutique. The seed funding will help with operations as the students develop their businesses into the year.
In addition to funding, each of the six students received three mentors who will lend their expertise in handling business matters.
The seed funding has been life-changing.
Njoroge couldn’t believe her ears when she heard the announcement. Her business, Natural Journeys, was born out of a frustration with the lack of help and advice she would get at local beauty stores about her natural hair. She says she spent far too much money on trial and error, and devised Natural Journeys as a place where people with natural hair could receive product and hair advice.
It is a cost-sensitive operation. Natural Journeys offers samples to customers so they don’t waste money on a product that might not work on their hair.
Njoroge says Natural Journeys is still in the process of receiving the funding, but in the meantime she has been working hard on developing a website and merchandise for her business. She is also getting ready for a pop-up shop on March 30 at The Keep.
“The funding will help me get the supplies for that and also get the store up and running once a location is secured,” she said.
Clark, who has received her $10,000 package from the Venture Fund in the last week, said that she is focusing on using the money for supplies and marketing. While she is only dealing with half of her original asking price, Clark said that the additional time between the announcement and getting her funding has helped her evaluate where she needs to spend her money “the best way I should.”
Hearing that her sustainable clothing and home-goods business, the Sweet Spot, would be receiving funding was pure joy, she said.
“It was a lot of work so it felt like it was all worth it,” she said. “It’s just an incredible opportunity.”
Her classmate Cintron knows something about that.
While enrolled in the Launch Now program, he founded Barber on the Run, a mobile barber service. His business philosophy is based on community service in its purest form. He has been a barber for over 20 years and specializes in serving those who need his help the most: veterans and people with handicaps who often were unable to visit his shop themselves. So he did what he felt he needed to and invested his time in becoming a barber on the run.
He says that the business is about “extending my services, bringing it closer to them.”
That $8,000 funding from the Venture Fund will give him everything he needs. He hopes to renovate an old Trinity ambulance to become his new barber studio.
“I was emotional,” he said. “It’s been a long road for me.”
Cintron, who says that he is “for the community,” is working on readying paperwork that will enable him to carry out his business model while he waits for the funding to come in.
All of this was possible due to the MCC Launch Your Business Now program, and the students have not forgotten that.
“Joining MCC Launch Now program was one of the best decisions I have made,” said Njoroge. “The program helped me lay the foundation of my business. From developing my mission and vision statement, value propositions. Knowing the strengths, weakness and competition in my business and, most importantly, a business plan.”
Clark found that the program gave her a strong foundation in entrepreneurship. She says it encouraged her to “flesh out” her idea, and she feels “honored and grateful for the whole process.”
Cintron echoes that sentiment. He says the program has given him a foundation on which he can turn his dreams into reality. The support, he said, is a “debt I can never repay.”