Our Partner Spotlights have traditionally featured organizations rather than people, but this month we headed over to the Frederick County Office of Economic Development to talk to Sherman Coleman, who is an institution in his own right. While we were there, we discussed the Minority Business Vision Program of which he is the Director, and we picked up some tips for a successful and balanced life along the way.
What is the goal of your program, the Minority Business Vision (MBV) Program?
Our mission is to help solidify small and minority business [to] become successful, energizing, and able to contribute to the overall vitality of Frederick County.
What are your top priorities as Director of the MBV Program?
Education, education, education. There are aspects of going into business that you should learn and know how to do fluently. We try to provide the business owners with all the tools necessary to do that. We have seminars, workshops, and networking events, because I believe you can learn best from people who have already done it.
About how many entrepreneurs do you usually draw for your monthly networking events?
We’ve been doing this since 2015, but right now we average between 35 and 45 attendees per session. I encourage people to bring friends and other entrepreneurs with them. If you attend, you know, next time bring a coworker; bring a friend; bring somebody else who wants to start a business. People bring in people, and the word gets out.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I like seeing the glee in other people’s eyes when they feel like they can do it, and I like to see the glee in people’s eyes when they’ve done it. Reality produces hopes; hopes produce dreams; dreams produce reality.
Have you called on a specific template for the Minority Business Vision Program or has this been primarily your project?
It’s a project of the Frederick County Office of Economic Development. This office has perpetuated a whole aura of participation and stability and has given me the guidance and the wherewithal to put this program forward. We want to continue to move forward so the generation behind us can see what we are trying to plant and build for them, and they can build up on that and take it to the next level. Where we can go with this is limitless.
Can you tell us about your progress in the past four years?
We’ve really been able to increase awareness. As far as the impact, I’m not sure if it was me. I think the impact has consisted of the people who were involved. Those are the actual people who are starting businesses and have been getting the word out there. So the impact has snowballed throughout the community because people wanted to get involved. The actual heroes of the program are those people who are participating.
Have you seen a change in the health of the minority business community since you started with the MBV Program?
More women are getting involved; more women are saying ‘I can do this, I want to do this.’ In a lot of instances, women have been led to believe they can’t achieve or have been looked down on. Now, they want to take it to the level where their daughters and other young women can see what they’ve done. Their determination ensures that it will happen and they’ve been successful because they surround themselves with people who know what they don’t know. That’s part of being successful in anything you do. Surround yourself with people who know things that you don’t know. It’s one thing to say you want to start a business, but it's another thing to see people who have already done it. You can see what they’re doing; you can see that it's possible. It gives you hope.
Is it difficult to get in touch with underrepresented groups of business owners? What challenges do these entrepreneurs face?
I haven’t found it difficult--the only thing that’s been a difficulty is the capital. These people are looking for help with financing a business. There’s a risk involved. It’s entirely possible that they don’t have families, friends, relatives, or colleagues who they can borrow money from. We’ve talked with financial institutions in the area who are looking at maybe giving a startup a chance or taking a second look at an application for credit. Before, they may not have given that much attention to hearing another side of the story.
What are your plans as Director for the MBV Program?
Expansion. We want to make it bigger and better. We want Frederick County to be the template and leader in minority business ownership and participation. We want to be the front-runner of this movement because, as you know, the backbone of this nation is small businesses. That is where the country is going to continue to prosper and flourish.
What would you say to someone who’s interested in getting started in your programs or looking to start a business in Frederick?
I would say come to the networking events! Those are the people who can give you excellent advice. Being willing to participate and share your talents is part of the solution, because you know what your strengths are. I’m bringing out what’s already inside of you. I’d encourage people to get started now rather than wait. If you have a dream, pursue that dream. There is no better situation than today: you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, and you can’t undo what you didn’t do yesterday. So let’s start the day before.
What’s your one hope for the future of Frederick County’s Minority Business Vision Program?
That I leave a legacy that will be remembered. That people look back upon this as a period where Sherman Coleman and the Office of Economic Development established a program that, years down the road, will still exist and produce positive results. We have a rich history here in Frederick County. We want to continue that tradition of moving forward and being successful for generations to come.