The collaborative project will provide resources, technical assistance, mentorship, and more to assist under-resourced entrepreneurs and Black-centric startups
By BCN Staff — May 3, 2021 — In a festive, party-like atmosphere in Little Rock’s downtown River Market District, ReMix Ideas Inc. and the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) unveiled the new Rock It! Lab experiment during an open house event on Saturday.
According to Remix Ideas CEO Benito Lubazibwa, the new maker space and startup business lab is a collaboration between the CALS and Advancing Black Entrepreneurship, a local Black mentorship program that sprung out of ReMix Ideas’ ground-breaking virtual Black Founders Summit in October.
That event brought together more than 100 business leaders, financiers, policymakers, entrepreneurs, educators, artisans, and other vital stakeholders across Arkansas – all with a common goal: advancing Black entrepreneurship.
During this one-day virtual conference attended by Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., Sen. Joyce Elliott and Southern Bancorp and CEO Darrin Williams, two “first-of-its-kind” multimillion dollar venture funds were announced for black-owned small businesses, startups, and sole proprietors unable to access COVID-19 funding at the state, local and federal level.
Lubazibwa said Rock It! Lab was birthed from ideas in the “Advancing Black Entrepreneurship in Arkansas” report released after the fall summit. That 16-page report, here, makes key recommendations to local, state, and federal government leaders to further support black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. Those key recommendations focus on equity in purchasing and procurement, access to capital, strengthening the arts & the creative economy, supporting Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), and building a more equitable and just entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“We started Rock It! Lab to democratize access for under sourced entrepreneurs and early stage, Black-owned businesses that need help getting to the next level,” said Lubazibwa, the local serial entrepreneur who is also founder of the Little Rock’s Africa Day Festival, ShopBlackLive virtual platform, the ReMix Ideas Business Academy powered by FORGE, and the Little Rock Night Market in the city’s river district.
At Saturday’s event, the Rock It! Lab unveiled its new maker space concept at CALS-owned historic Cox Building at 120 River Market Ave. From the iconic three-story building, ReMix Ideas and local volunteers from the business community will provide resources and services, including technical assistance, mentorship, marketing and promotion, networking opportunities, business education, one-on-one instruction, and more to assist entrepreneurs in creating successful businesses.
The downtown project includes the 501 Makers collaborative workspace, the River Shop Retail for local vendors to sell their wares, and Village Coworking office space for early-stage startups. The first floor of the brick staccato building located next to the downtown CALS Library also houses the recently renovated Galleries & Bookstore at Library Square and the House of Mental Eatery, a local food startup vendor that offers vegetarian and vegan cuisine.
Rock It! Lab Program Coordinator Leah Patterson told BlackConsumerNews.com that now only will the downtown venture provide space for under sourced startup firm and entrepreneurs, it will also provide those same early-stage businesses with access to experienced mentors and business leaders to counsel them on how to grow their businesses and avoid common mistakes along the way.
“Our next step is to open up the space as people come in here working on their business and working on their projects and move beyond when we were having with our programs online,” Patterson said of the Rock It! Lab’s post-pandemic vision. “We actually want to help those businesses get set up with mentors and start to help those businesses move beyond the early stage.”
Patterson, a graduate of Washington, D.C.-based Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, also said her experience as a startup business owner will aid her day-to-day interactions with other entrepreneurs now going through that early-stage process.
She also said while Rock It! Lab will help businesses with the normal routine to “legitimatizing” their business idea or product, the mission of the new collab is leveling the field for Black-owned and other underserved startups and entrepreneurs that don’t have access to such tools otherwise.
“In that spirit, what we are doing is helping business owners that don’t typically have this access. A couple things we provide here is access tools, capital, and mentors are a really important piece to that for guidance and hand-holding to actually grow your business from an idea to an actual sustainable, successful business,” said Patterson, who owns her own sweatproof, natural makeup for active women called “Move Makeup.”
Anyone interested in becoming a Rock It! Lab mentor or getting free consultation on startup a business can sign up on the CALS website here.
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