How two Greenville nonprofits will help support minority businesses around Unity Park

How two Greenville nonprofits will help support minority businesses around Unity Park

Greenville News | March 25, 2021

Chef Tyler Kelley has a business philosophy. He calls it a philosophy of service.

“For those who contribute to prosperity, you will get something in return,” he said while standing in his kitchen in the Greater Sullivan neighborhood. “‘As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.'”

It’s this philosophy that has driven Kelley, a native of Queens, New York, to success — from Waffle House to the kitchen in Halls Chophouse to launching his own business, Emerald Plate 101.

His broad-scale catering company offers fine dining-inspired meal plans, upscale catering and private chef services.

The business has taken him all across the East Coast — Georgia, Louisiana, up to New York. Soon, he’ll hit the West Coast, too.

Despite COVID, his business is expanding, growing. He’s worked hard and slept little.

The perseverance is paying off, he said.

Part of that success was the Business Entrepreneur Academy, a program that provides personal and business financial training for aspiring entrepreneurs. It’s powered by Village Launch, which is under the umbrella of Mill Community Ministries, a local nonprofit organization.

Kelley graduated from the program in 2017. BEA helped him structure his business model, but it was about more than that, he said.

“More along the lines of the philosophy and the guts that it takes to be an entrepreneur, and actually go out there and chase your dreams and actually realize what you’re up against,” Kelley said. “It kind of introduced me to the language and the playing field of what I would be exposed to as a self-employed go-getter.”

Now, Village Launch and CommunityWorks are launching a similar program in the heart of Greenville — the city’s first Neighborhood Small Business Initiative, which will provide funding, training and mentorship to primarily minority and women-owned businesses in the city’s west side, the area surrounding Unity Park.

Dan Weidenbenner, executive director of Mill Community Ministries and Mill Village Farms, compares West Greenville to the upper King Street area in Charleston — an area ripe for gentrification.

“When you think of gentrification, you think of housing, residents being displaced, but not necessarily businesses also being displaced, too,” Weidenbenner said. “I fear that same challenge happening here.”

In a 2014 plan for West Greenville, city staff spotted need for a small-business initiative to support more than 650 existing businesses that employ more than 6,700 people in the communities surrounding Unity Park.

It’s an issue that hasn’t faded from city leaders’ minds.

“I feel that more emphasis needs to go to helping build minority businesses throughout the city but especially in historical minority neighborhoods,” Greenville Mayor Knox White said.

Participating businesses will receive coaching through Village Launch, which uses a curriculum that supports grassroots economic development in urban communities, according to a Village Launch press release. Village Launch will also train entrepreneurs on market research, customer development, business plan development, financial planning, and marketing.

Leading the initiative is Rhonda Rawlings, a longtime radio host who joined Village Launch as the neighborhood engagement director.

“That is something we definitely need to keep an eye on and be intentional about, making sure that these places such as The Commons — and any other places — are representing African American businesses as well,” Rawlings said.

The program will launch in partnership with CommunityWorks, which supports underserved entrepreneurs and communities by offering access to equitable financing, investing, affordable housing and financial coaching.

“CommunityWorks is thrilled to accelerate minority and women-led businesses in these core neighborhoods,” Tammie Hoy-Hawkins, CEO of CommunityWorks, said in the press release. “Our mission of serving entrepreneurs and furthering economic development along with my history in this type of work made the partnership with Village Launch and the city of Greenville a natural fit.”

The program will be modeled after the successful Start:ME business training program based in Spartanburg’s Northside, originally developed by Emory University. Hoy-Hawkins previously helped bring Start:ME to Spartanburg.

Greenville Local Development Corporation will also help fund small businesses in the West Side communities, the press release stated.

“GLDC is proud to support community entrepreneurs in Greenville’s West Side communities through Village Launch. We are committed to supporting economic development within the city of Greenville,” said David Barnett, a GLDC chair.

The program will support small business owners like Kelley, who dream of paying it forward.

“The biggest things I got from (BEA) is it’s not about you,” Kelley said. “I came from a place where they didn’t expect me to be 18 and alive. You know, jail cell or a body bag. Gang involvement, the whole thing… and I’m down here working my best as a role model, an example to let not only my peers and my equals but those in the next generation know — you don’t need the products of damnation… you can literally use your mind and create anything that you want in this world.”