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Minding Their Business

Minding Their Business

TCC’s first entrepreneurial cohort puts dreams into motion

Choosing to start a business can be a daunting challenge, especially for those going it alone. Having start-up funding, plus solid business training and mentors to call on for guidance, can help new entrepreneurs overcome potential pitfalls on the road to achieving their dreams. Such is the role of the Everyday Entrepreneur Venture Fund (EEVF), with TCC sponsoring its first cohort of nine entrepreneurs in the Spring of 2021.

TCC was named as an EEVF participant by the National Association for Community Entrepreneurs (NACCE), which provides seed grants to community college foundations for community-based new business start-ups. The initiative is expected to grow through additional community sponsorships, with customized business training provided through TCC educators and business advisors coming from the Tarrant Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Unlike grants and other programs, the initiative provides ongoing oversight and support, helping to formalize measurable goals and provide accountability throughout the entrepreneur’s journey. According to Lourdes Ramboa, chair, business & entrepreneurship programs at TCC, the program offers entrepreneurs with little or no formal business training “a great opportunity to learn.”

How is it going for the initial cohort? Participants talked to REACH Magazine about why they launched their businesses and how TCC is helping them build toward success.

Finding their “Personal Why”

Most entrepreneurs have a “personal why” for wanting to start their own business. For Justin McLaughlin, owner of Xenia Roastery, LLC, launching a coffee roasting company was in large part about bringing more diversity to the industry. A first-generation business owner, he explained “there are not a lot of folks that look like me in this industry. I hope to serve as motivation for other young, aspiring entrepreneurs [who are people of color].”

Coffee also created a calling for Charleta Sharp, owner of Cup o’ Vibes. Equally motivated by diversity, her dream is to launch a coffee shop that serves as a community gathering place in South Arlington, which she describes as “a specialty coffee shop desert.” During frequent visits to a favorite coffee shop in Fort Worth, she saw community leaders, students, neighbors and business executives all gathered in the same space. “I love the way that small business became a community advocate for local initiatives,” she explained.

For others like Ana Ambriz, who launched AMP Materials LLC, it’s all about work-life balance and creating more financial security for her family. “Starting this business has given me a new sense of self,” Ambriz explained. The same can be said for Philip Viola, who started Nor-Tex Drone Services in hopes of creating additional revenue following retirement. “I was tired of working part-time for other people or companies,” explained Viola, a firefighter who has supplemented his income over the course of his career with side jobs.

“Finding her true passion drives Timesha Brown, who explained that she “feels at peace and full of joy when designing and creating events,” prompting her to launch TK Events Rentals. Arlene Peterson of Arlene Speaks also “finds joy working with go-getters and those who choose to listen to instruction,” as part of her consulting business. She thrives on helping job seekers bridge the gap between the expectations of what hiring managers ask for and what candidates believe they can and can’t bring to the table.

Addressing health care issues motivates LaKeitha Van Zandt Muckelroy, RN, of Caring Hands Adult Day Center, and Brent Bousquet of In Good Hands, LLS, a health, fire and safety training and equipment business. Said Van Zandt Muckelroy, “I experienced the loss of both my paternal and maternal grandmothers to Alzheimer’s and dementia, and I witnessed ‘caregiver stress’ on our family due to not having outside forms of respite.” Bousquet said he “saw a need for experienced and professional training, service and support regarding medical emergencies, fire emergencies and safety precautions within the public and private sectors.” Promoting emotional and mental health fuels Carlos Walker of Akachi Ranch, a therapeutic campsite for North Texas. He explained that the idea is to create “a peaceful, safe space where people can escape technology and reflect on their larger purpose.”

Stages of the Journey

Each of the entrepreneurs is in a different stage of their journey, with all still working a day job to make ends meet. McLaughlin recently celebrated his first year in business, having launched Xenia Roastery in July of 2020, during the thick of the pandemic. He said his biggest hurdle is lack of exposure and opportunity. As an emerging small business, “I constantly have to prove that I have the skills and abilities as a roaster [to make the grade],” he explained. Currently, he is focused on creating direct trade relationships with coffee farmers and growing the business-to-business side of his company.

Ambriz launched her business in April of 2020, starting her business plan in January as COVID-19 was beginning to make the news. Her business also was impacted by a declining economy and changes in how companies did business due to the pandemic. “I continued my plans, but I had to stay conservative, and my marketing plan fell back,” she explained, which changed how she could connect with her construction contacts. Instead of face-to-face meetings, she turned to automating processes and creating a website for sales bids. Despite the limitations, she notes the steel market “has taken its biggest increase in years” and she recently landed her first major contract.

Bousquet, who already was in business prior to being named a participant, has focused on staying the course on Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and first-aid medical training, while also working to become a distributor of AEDs and first-aid equipment.

For Van Zandt Muckelroy, a big hurdle to launching her medical business is obtaining the necessary credentials. “During COVID, I have experienced months and months of not being able to speak to a ‘live person’ at the multiple entities necessary to obtain our licensure/certifications.” She has embraced these challenges as an “opportunity to evolve as an entrepreneur,” being innovative and thinking out of the box to get her business off the ground.

Peterson also encountered challenges related to the pandemic, noting that the “business lost momentum when COVID hit in the first quarter of 2020.” She ramped up marketing via word-of-mouth and begin discounting her writing services to clients who experienced job losses, which helped to compensate for lost speaking opportunities. “I have been focusing more on the writing portion of my business as a revenue generator,” she explained, while expanding her services into grant writing.

While Brown’s event business is formed and generating “some revenue,” she’s choosing to focus on “marketing the business effectively and knowing what inventory to purchase first.” Similarly, Walker’s therapy ranch business is also well underway, with his current focus on livestock acquisition, capital improvement projects and marketing to promote and advertise his business. For Viola, who established his business in 2019, the focus is on growth. “I had only a handful of jobs my first year,” he explained, adding that today he has one main client. To grow, he recognizes that he’ll need to increase his marketing efforts.

Sharp is in lease negotiations on the location for her new café and has hired an architect to design the space. “Once the lease is executed, the architect will begin drafting the plans and other construction documents necessary to obtain permits,” she explained. In parallel with these efforts, she continues to interview other “coffeepreneurs” for advice on sourcing suppliers and developing the marketing and communications strategy.

TCC’s Role

TCC has taken a customized approach, working with each entrepreneur to provide resources, educational training and advisory support. The year-long program brings the group together to share common challenges and lessons learned. Several of the entrepreneurs had initial experiences with the Tarrant Small Business Development Center prior to being selected for the program.

“SBDC was helpful to me before Xenia Roastery was formed,” McLaughlin said. “The staff helped me with the planning and ideation of my business, as well as pivots.” Once assimilated into the EEVF initiative, he said he has found the interaction with the other entrepreneurs “helpful in learning about different funding opportunities, as well as sharing ideas.” Walker can attest to this, noting that the program has helped him “prepare our financials to receive a business loan,” investing the resources to make Akachi Ranch grow.

For Ambriz, it all boils down to one word: “Support.” She explained that “if it weren’t for the support of the advisors and the cohort, I don’t know if I would be where I am today. They have helped me know, identify and work on my personal strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve become exposed to Minority and HUB certifications I knew nothing about.” More importantly, she credits the program with “bringing me greater confidence and the feeling of having a great team behind me.” Bousquet summed it up, noting that the initiative “has provided us with a mentor, funding and a curriculum tailor-made to our specific needs. Their resources are endless! Anytime I have questions, or I need guidance, I always have someone to turn to.”

Van Zandt Muckelroy agrees. “I am able to obtain direction, guidance and advice from professionals with an immense amount of knowledge and wisdom. This business has been a dream of mine since 2017, and TCC is allowing me to make it a reality.” Said Peterson, “The on-demand business development help has been priceless, especially on complex questions.”

Along with shared resources, motivation and support, Sharp notes that “the assignments provide accountability. They are helping me to sharpen my business identity and overall concept. The guest speakers also expand our business network and have introduced the cohort to resources that will help our businesses thrive.” Brown said she has improved her marketing and social media presence by “learning how to profile my ideal client,” while Viola has turned to TCC for “advice on how to market myself,” as well as for answers to legal questions, guidance on creating a business plan and networking opportunities.

Utilizing Seed Funding

Along with training and mentorship, each entrepreneur has received seed funding to help cover expenses. How has the first cohort utilized the much-needed resources?

  • Xenia Roastery—Paid operational costs, installing an HVAC system for the roasting machine and covered lease payments for their 1,000-square-foot space.
  • Caring Hands Adult Day Center—Commissioned updates to their website and paid fees to obtain required licensure/certifications to operate in the state of Texas.
  • AMP Materials—Utilized funding to develop and launch a website and pay for minority certification, etc.
  • Akachi Ranch—Committed funds to capital improvement projects and is currently seeking additional funding to build a pavilion with restrooms and showers for campers.
  • Arlene Speaks It—Paid marketing and promotions expenses,  as well as legal and tax service fees.
  • Nor-Tex Drone Services—Dedicated funds to marketing costs and equipment upgrades.
  • Cup O’ Vibes—Used funding to help cover insurance, marketing needs, permits and retainer fees.
  • In Good Hands—Expanded into fire safety, purchasing equipment and covering installation, maintenance and inspection of extinguishers and fire suppression systems.
  • TK Events Rentals—Acquired new inventory and helped to pay for event design certification.

Looking Toward the Future

Although it’s challenging to predict, especially in today’s unprecedented times, the first cohort of entrepreneurs all have a future-perfect vision of where they’d like to be in the next three to five years, both in terms of financial and community impact.

Justin McLaughlin would like Xenia Roastery to be well established and growing. “I see Xenia having a second roasting location and direct-purchase relationships with coffee farmers from at least five different countries around the world. I also see entrepreneurship training programs established with local school districts and young brown and black entrepreneurs being encouraged to find their walk and path in entrepreneurship.”

In five years, Ana Ambriz expects to be fully set up and working on government projects. “I will be quoting larger projects since I expect to have a credit line that allows my business to fund them. I also hope to be working out of a business office space with the ability to hire an employee or a small group of selected individuals who will continue to help the business grow.”

Brent Bousquet said he would like to see In Good Hands turn into a large business that takes a stronghold within the Metroplex within the next three to five years. “I like to keep large goals and dreams,” he explained, adding, “I would love to see IGH become a national name one day!”

For Carlos Walker, it is all about improving the experience for guests at Akachi Ranch. “We plan to have cabins for guests who prefer a camping experience, along with an event center for family reunions, parties, quinceañeras, weddings, etc. We also hope to purchase additional property for more livestock, including cattle, goats, horses and pigs.”

In the next three to five years, Charletra Sharp envisions Cup o’ Vibes as a household name in her community. “Our customer base will expand from our residential neighbors to commercial neighbors. We will expand our products to evolve with the interest of our consumer family. Financially, we will have a 100 percent return on our investment and achieve profitability. Cup o’ Vibes will be recognized as a Small Business of the Year, and we will scale our model to increase our reach.”

Arlene Peterson hopes to grow her business into a high-performing consulting agency, helping clients land high-paying jobs of typically $80K and up, or increasing their pay by a large percentage. She also hopes to be a sought-after speaker, regularly presenting at colleges and universities in Texas, helping “to get students more prepared for the changing job landscape.” In addition, she’d like to be speaking at large nonprofits (that offer job training and other programs), “discussing their role in the changing job market and sharing the real-world tools they need to thrive and not just survive.”

In the next three to five years, LaKeitha Van Zandt Muckelroy said she hopes to be “well established in providing our services nationally if not world-wide,” adding that “being innovative means that we are not locked into the confines of a brick-and-mortar facility.”

Timesha Brown sees a storefront with a carpenter on staff and possibly a venue to actually rent out as well, adding that she’d also like to “be able to actually teach classes five years from now to other creatives.”

“Since I am creeping up on retirement from my career, I am looking to supplement my income,” said Philip Viola, whose five-year goal is to “be making at least as much as I am now at working my regular job.”

Community Impact

“Long-term, we expect this program to have significant impact on the community,” said Shannon Bryant, TCC executive vice president of TCC Corporate Solutions & Economic Development (CSED). “This is helping people who otherwise may not have the resources to launch and sustain a new business, which ultimately helps our community to grow and thrive.” Adds Rodney Johnson, director of Tarrant SBDC, the entrepreneurship program ultimately helps participants find their own way. “If we are successful, these entrepreneurs will have learned how to work through all manner of dilemmas and know how to get the answers they need to be successful.”

Words of Wisdom

As the inaugural entrepreneur cohort for TCC, participants have words of wisdom for others who choose to take the leap and start their own business:

“Do not think twice. Start your own entrepreneurial venture. NEVER DOUBT YOURSELF or your dream. Nothing big comes easy, but the feeling of accomplishment and building something that is yours is the most rewarding thing I personally think people can do. Don’t think that you don’t need the support systems that are out there. Use all the sources that TCC provides. Don’t be afraid to be alone because you are not. You will find joy in the end result.” —Ana Ambriz, AMP Materials

“Stay prayed up and remain faithful, trusting that if He brought you to it, He’ll take you through it. Believe in whatever it is you want to do. Find a mentor in your field of interest. Make a habit of listening to motivational speakers to keep you encouraged. Know that there are dream killers out there so understand you can’t tell everybody what your plans are. If you expect people to invest in your business, invest in yourself. It will increase your value. Understand that you can’t take everybody with you. Be careful taking advice from someone who hasn’t been where you’re going. Have no fear. NEVER TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER!” —LaKeitha Van Zandt Muckelroy, Caring Hands Adult Day Center

“Be humble and ready to learn. Have a vision in mind for your company and plan around the vision. Love and value the process of what you are doing, don’t focus on dollars earned and outcomes. Consider how what you are doing impacts the local community around you and the world.” —Justin McLaughlin, Xenia Roastery

“Set goals and include a timeline to monitor your progress. Don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams, but make sure you complete your homework prior to moving forward. Your homework includes identifying your purpose, target market, and the amount of capital necessary to get started.” —Carlos Walker, Akachi Ranch

“Map out a BIG plan in the beginning for where you want to go with your business, and it will guide you all the way through even when you hit those big bumps in the road like the COVID-19 pandemic. My business plan has done this for me, and I simply fine-tune or add to it as I work with LivePlan in the TCC courses now.  Always think bigger so you will be able to pivot. Research automation ahead of time, identifying the tools that you would want/need to use as your business grows. However, to preserve funds, do not purchase these programs/ courses /automation tools before you actually need them.” —Arlene Peterson, Arlene Speaks It

“Have all your ducks in a row prior to jumping into any endeavor. Take all the help and advice you can get. Be ready for challenges you never anticipated and don’t give up. You will get out of it what you put into it.” —Philip Viola, Nor-Tex Drone Services

“I am still a novice in this entrepreneurial journey, but the following has worked for me in this early stage: 1) Commit to progress over perfection; 2) Be vulnerable enough to share your vision with others before its fully baked; and 3) Do not neglect doing the work to plan for your business, but don’t limit yourself to what feels safe. Activate your faith with action, respect the process and watch it manifest!” —Charletra Sharp, Cup O’ Vibes

“Keep your nose to the grindstone and make it a habit to better yourself and the company every single day. Realize that starting a business will take up to 80 percent of your time, but never forget that the other 20 percent is what matters at the end of the day, which is the time you spend with your loved ones and time for self-care!” —Brent Bousquet, In Good Hands

“Don’t give up, stay the course. Keep your eye on what you are trying to achieve. Do not be too prideful to ask for help. Be honest with what you do not know. Be open, allowing someone to assist you in those areas. DELEGATE!” —Timesha Brown, TK Events Rentals

Meet the Entrepreneurs

The initial cohort of participants are as diverse as their start-up businesses, including eight minorities or people of color and seven women-owned businesses. The first of two cohorts per year, participants include:

  • Justin McLaughlin standing in front of a coffee roaster

    Justin McLaughlin

    Xenia Roastery

    A specialty coffee roastery featuring fresh beans sold through a subscription service and to local retailers.

  • LaKeitha Van Zandt Muckelroy

    LaKeitha Van Zandt Muckelroy

    Caring Hands Adult Day Center

    An in-home adult daycare with virtual programs conducted by licensed health care professionals.

  • Ana Ambriz standing in front of racks full of steel rebar

    Ana Ambriz

    AMP Materials

    A materials management company that specializes in supplying reinforced rebar steel for commercial building projects.

  • Carlos Walker stands besides a beautiful brown horse

    Carlos Walker

    Akachi Ranch

    A working ranch where visitors can come to heal through horse therapy and other programs.

  • Arlene Peterson stands with her arms spread open in front of a vivid red and yellow background

    Arlene Peterson

    Arlene Speaks It

    A consulting service that provides individual and corporate support on everything from diversity training to individual career coaching.

  • Philip Viola pilots a drone that hovers in front of him

    Philip Viola

    Nor-Tex Drone Services

    A drone video service that provides aerial footage for real estate and other applications.

  • Charletra Sharp holds a truly gigantic mug of coffee in front of her

    Charletra Sharp

    Cup O’ Vibes

    A specialty café featuring coffee and ethnic drinks in South Arlington.

  • Brent Bousquet

    Brent Bousquet

    In Good Hands

    An emergency medical training service for individuals, corporations and health care workers requiring certification.

  • Timesha Brown stands in front of a green, leafy backdrop

    Timesha Brown

    TK Events Rentals

    A party event rental company supporting small to large venues.

Tarrant County College’s First Cohort for Everyday Entrepreneur Venture Fund

Chosen from a pool of 26 applicants, the EEVF projects ranged from a ranch offering programs to help those struggling with trauma, to adult daycare utilizing virtual technology, a drone video service that captures aerial footage, and more. Each cohort participant received seed funding to help bring their business idea to life, as well as 12 months of group and customized training to hone their skills through learning and development programs at TCC and its Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which is part of TCC Corporate Solutions & Economic Development (CSED).

Are you a small business owner wanting to grow, or an entrepreneur with a promising start-up business idea? Call TCC CSED at 817-515-2500 or email for more information.