DAYTON, Ohio — At her home stove, LaTeasa Spears had a dream. A mother of five, she wanted to offer other moms across the country a way to relax, and she hoped her homemade candles would do the trick.
Two years later, wax, fragrance oil and packing material fill her living room shelves, as she uses whatever time she can find to keep her business, Loc’d N Scent, growing. Now, though, Spears has a new ally helping her along the way, the Greater West Dayton Business Incubator.
A partnership between local leaders and the University of Dayton, the Greater West Dayton Business Incubator officially opened in December 2021, and started taking on clients and offering programming in the new year.
According to center director Whitney Barkley, its goal is to break down the knowledge and resource barriers that have prevented entrepreneurship and small businesses from thriving in the west Dayton neighborhoods.
“We’re one of the only organizations that really truly have a footing here in west Dayton and we want to make sure that accessibility is there for all of our entrepreneurs,” she said. “We want them to walk away with new information and be refreshed and ultimately take their business to the next level.”
The incubator started focusing on education and funding, launching a micro-lending program and series of courses throughout February called the “Business Blitz.”
Spears was one of the first students.
“I’ve done a lot of these things on my own, so it helps to get the inspiration and the know-how from the people who have done this already,” she said. “I don’t know that there was ever something like this that was so into seeing small businesses thrive.”
She said the incubator helped her navigate the processes of filing for taxes and seeking funding support as well as advice on how to take advantage of branding and marketing on social media.
“Because TikTok is the big thing now,” she said.
Antwon Cunningham, owner of Kiara Wine, is another early student taking advantage of the programming. He said he’s had some experience running a nonprofit, but he said the incubator has helped him transition those skills.
“I’m excited because I can see the growth and the dream turned into a reality,” he said.
The incubator has been in the works since 2019, but its 2021 opening came with unexpectedly opportune timing.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there’s been a surge in new business applications in the wake of the pandemic. Last year, more than 5.4 million startups put in applications, breaking the previous record set in 2020.
Despite the uptick, the incubator acknowledges that most entrepreneurs struggle to make it past the first five years of business. Barkley said her center wants to make the path to success as easy as possible.
“We’re able to work through some of the barriers that may be present for their business and ultimately we want them to walk away with new information and be refreshed and ultimately take their business to the next level,” she said.
As Spears works to grow her business, she said she also hopes to help change the culture surrounding entrepreneurship in her community.
“That’s one of the things that I get so much out of running my own business, that my kids get to see me do this thing and to be successful,” she said. “So they can see that they can do this as well. I think that’s what we’re bringing to the west side of Dayton.”