From online stores to food trucks, microbusinesses are booming with help from Iowa SBA

Iowa SBA Deputy District Director Dawnelle Conley, Director Jayne Armstrong and Curtis Baugh. — courtesy of Black Iowa News

Curtis Baugh champions small businesses. He even has an award to prove it.

The senior business consultant at the Small Business Solutions Center at the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. The Iowa district office of the Small Business Administration (SBA) in May recognized Baugh’s work with a Minority Small Business Champion Award.

“The clients really make it worthwhile for me. They’re amazing,” said Baugh, who has worked at the nonprofit center for four years. “I learn more from them than they learn from me.”

At the center, located north of downtown Des Moines, Baugh helps a diverse clientele launch their businesses. He conducts free one-on-one coaching sessions with clients who come to him with their ideas for a new business, and he assists established clients looking to scale their businesses. He also connects clients with business classes and other resources at the center and through the partnerships he has forged in the community.

Baugh said many of his clients are people of color. He has noticed an explosion of new businesses after the shaky economic times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a trend happening across the country.

According to the Brookings Institution, Americans formed 2.8 million more online microbusinesses in 2020 than in 2019. A microbusiness is defined as having 10 or fewer employees. Before the pandemic struck, Blacks accounted for 15 percent of microbusiness owners nationally, but by July 2021, the share of Black microbusiness owners had grown to 26 percent, the Brookings’ analysis of business data found.

A record number of Iowans completed new business filings last year, according to the Iowa Secretary of State, which registered 33,331 new businesses in 2022, up 36 percent from 24,481 businesses in 2020.

“I saw well over 900 people last year either trying to start a new business, or they’ve been in business 20 years and they’re trying to find a solution,” Baugh said.

Baugh initiated partnerships with Iowa SBA Director Jayne Armstrong and Deputy District Director Dawnelle Conley, who regularly meet with clients at the center and counsel them on their businesses. He said the Iowa SBA has been “a huge supporter of what I’m trying to do.”

“This is the man,” Armstrong said, of Baugh. “He opened the doors, and he inspires us every day.”
Armstrong and Conley recently met at the center and advised a small business owner about ways she could reach more customers by expanding her offerings to corporate clients. She said the partnership with the center has resulted in more “direct results” in the Iowa SBA’s interaction with businesses, especially in the “diversity, equity and inclusion area.”

“We’re building a different level of relationship that’s adding to referrals and building trust,” Armstrong said.

In May, Wells Fargo donated $1 million to the center and Drake University to help underserved communities launch new businesses. Ahmed Agyeman, the center’s director, said in a Des Moines Register story he hopes the donation will help his team more effectively work with entrepreneurs. The center plans to hire small business coaches and software, he said.

Baugh works with new businesses on the basics, including business plans, how to get a tax ID number and more; established businesses, he refers to Drake University’s Business Accelerator. Courses at the center include a Masters Business Boot Camp, Non-Profit Boot Camp, Business Model Canvas and Food Truck Kickstart.

Curtis Baugh, senior business consultant at the Small Business Solutions Center at the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families. — courtesy of Black Iowa News

He said about 50 people flocked to the popular food truck course, which is slated to be held again in the spring.

“We brought in the city and state inspectors and the fire marshal to teach them to prepare for what they’re going to run into when they do purchase a food truck,” he said.

Baugh has operated several businesses himself over 25 years, including sports media marketing and web and graphic design. He said he is in awe of clients who use the center to hone their ideas and create thriving businesses, such as Joy Hankins, founder of the Joy of Curls, and clothing designer Jayna Lidan, of J.Lidan.

“We’ve had some that have had really big success,” he said. “They’re doing amazing things.”

So is Baugh.

This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 008.

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