Launched in 2016, Riverside Center for Innovation’s (RCI) BizFIT program combines strategy, connections, and expertise to enable minority and disadvantaged construction entrepreneurs to grow sustainable enterprises. Today, less than 3 years after launching, the program is achieving equitable development by continuously providing a consistent growth culture, grounded in equity for small business owners.
BizFIT was created as a solution to address the disparity gap in the Pittsburgh region and key issues that are hindering the growth of disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs) across Pittsburgh. The ultimate objective of the program is to contribute and lead to sustainable economic growth in neighborhoods while assisting those at risk of being left behind and eliminating inequities and barriers many small business owners face.
As this is core to Neighborhood Allies’ mission, in 2016, we awarded a $70,000 Catalytic Grant to Riverside Center for Innovation (RCI) to launch the original BizFIT program. With our support, in just the first year of operations, over 40 MWDBE firms were trained on the necessary tools and skills that better qualify their business enterprises in bidding, hiring, bonding, use of technology, front/back office support, mentoring and managing growth. Neighborhood Allies recently awarded a second, $75,000 grant to RCI to support BizFIT Plus, where RCI will specifically target higher capacity DBE firms that have the growth potential to bid and service contracts of $100,000 or more. As they launch into their next endeavor, we’re excited to see what more they will accomplish. Get to know a few of the entrepreneurs who have already benefited from participating in BizFIT:
Jamar Cox, Nature’s Grooming, LLC
“Participating in BizFIT gave me the knowledge, confidence and connections to resources I needed to launch my business.”
-Jamar Cox, Owner, Nature’s Grooming, LLC
What is your business? Nature’s Grooming is land care business–we do everything from landscaping to snow and tree removal. Eventually, I want to move into more hardscaping work, like building retaining walls and other outdoor residential construction jobs.
How was BizFIT supported your business? I started BizFIT at Tier 3, so they have helped me from the get-go. When I first enrolled, my business idea was to do urban home beautification or lawn care. As I went through the classes, I was able to focus my business model into what it is today. BizFIT was really the launch pad for all the connections that have got me to where I am today–from getting my MWDBE and Section 3 certifications, to getting a low-interest loan from Bridgeway Capital to purchase new equipment and ultimately securing a large multi year maintenance job with the URA.
What was/is the most beneficial thing about BizFIT? For me, it’s the support system and network connections. The classes and training at BizFIT prepared me, and then staff connected me to the resources I needed to compete with other small businesses. The URA contract and the loan from Bridgeway Capital have been huge for me–I wouldn’t have been able to do that without BizFIT.
Ali Simms, Odd Jobs Property Maintenance
“BizFIT accelerated a lot of the things that would have taken me years in this industry to learn, and crunched that time down.”
-Ali Simms, Owner, Odd Jobs Property Maintenance
What is your business? We’re a one-stop shop for high-quality construction/remodeling work, accurate and thorough property inspections, and insurance claim assistance.
How was BizFIT supported your business? I got involved with RCI because I wanted to become certified as a minority business enterprise. That’s when I got connected with the BizFIT Program–as I started taking the classes, I really started to see the value of it. I was able to take the mentorship and support that I received and incorporate it into what I was already doing. It was a really nice synergy.
What was/is the most beneficial thing about BizFIT? Mentorship and support. One of the main takeaways that I got, is that your business can only grow so much when you’re more or less winging it. When you have someone sitting down with you and mentoring you it’s a game changer.
- Developed the BizFIT curriculum and formed partnerships with training providers
- 40 DBE firms completed the training
- 18 DBE firms completed the PA Unified Certification Program
- 26 DBE firms completed the OSHA certification
- 13 BizFIT participants completed the URAs Lead Base Paint Certification
- Over $240,000 leveraged in additional support for the program
What can you expect from BizFIT Plus? BizFIT Plus will provide customized instruction from the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, Learning Labs and Technical Support and Mentoring through the Powerlink CEO Roundtable Series to recent graduates of the original BizFIT program. Anticipated Results include:
- 15 MWDBE businesses will increase the number of contracts they are awarded by 5-10%
- 10 workshops will be established on the use of technology
- 15 current MWDBE businesses will have informational websites created
- 15 MWDBE microenterprises will increase their total annual revenues by 5-10%
- 15 MWDBE businesses will be mentored in a new CEO Roundtable Series established for women, minorities, veterans or other disadvantaged persons
- 15 MWDBE businesses will have the capacity to be enrolled in the new Diversifypittsburgh.org web portal for contracting opportunities with large corporations and nonprofits
BizFIT is structured into a three tiered cohort system that provides tailored support to meet the needs of DBEs according to the stage they are in within the business lifecycle. With BizFIT’s guidance, business owners evaluate the marketplace to find the best fit for their services while focusing on their top strategic capabilities. Entrepreneurs also receive guidance to create a five-year strategic growth plan that can propel their company into future success. For more information or to enroll, visit their website.