AFRICAN AMERICAN ENTREPRENEURS ASSOCIATION IS HELPING BUSINESSES IN VOLUSIA AND FLAGLER COUNTIES EXCEL.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
The African American Entrepreneurs Association (AAEA) is making strides in Volusia and Flagler counties.
On Monday, the organization held its second annual Networking and Awards Gala at Daytona State College.
The event is a fundraiser for the organization and a way to honor local entrepreneurs for outstanding work and achievements in the community.
“We honor entrepreneurs who are the lifeblood of any community. Anytime you support them you are supporting the community. Their work provides jobs, opportunity and prosperity for the community,” said Leslie Giscombe, founder and CEO of the African American Entrepreneurs Association.
Mike Panaggio, Digital Marketing (DME) and DME Sports Academy CEO, was awarded the Volusia Entrepreneur of the year. Ministries for Christ Outreach Pastor Lisa Polite, who does outreach through the church’s Hand In Hand Outreach, was named Volusia’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year.
Larry Jones, retired Flagler County Sheriff deputy and Christmas with a Deputy founder, was awarded Flagler’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year while Howard Holley Sr., TouchPoint Innovative Solutions’s CEO/publisher, was named Flagler’s Entrepreneur of the Year.
“This year we added the serial entrepreneurs, which cover into the social arena. Their work deals with social issues but also supports and ties into economic development,” noted Giscombe.
The AAEA is a 501© (3) non-profit organization with about 200 members. It started as a club in 2016 and became an association in 2018. Its aim is to create, promote and assist business.
“In order to do this, the organization advocates, educates and connects. We create a network of resources for business and entrepreneurs to tap into,” commented Giscombe.
The AAEA headquarters is in Palm Coast at 4883 Palm Coast Parkway. Other office locations include the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Daytona and Gainesville campuses. The AAEA has education partnerships with UCF, the University of Florida and Daytona State College.
FREE BUSINESS ADVICE
AAEA holds free monthly workshops and gives weekly free advice. In Daytona, workshops are held on the UCF Daytona campus and business advice is available on Thursdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
“I make myself available on Thursdays. It’s free for anyone who has any questions or ideas in regards to starting or growing their business in which they would like to discuss,” Giscombe stated.
LACK OF ACCESS
There is no doubt that African Americans face many obstacles in starting, maintaining and growing businesses, especially in their own communities.
The AAEA believes that it can help.
“We are dealing with Black businesses but not just Black business. The biggest obstacles our businesses face are the lack of access to services. Stats show that most Black businesses fail within 18 months,’’ Giscombe explained.
“We provide access to services. A lot of times in our communities businesses are left out of access to vital services which can help their businesses grow.
There are some resources that can help Black businesses.
“One of the biggest expenses for small business is payroll. Many of our businesses are one-man teams. Career Source has a program that reimburses small businesses for paying for employee training. It goes up to 30,000 per year,” Giscombe shared.
This year’s gala was attended by Florida State Rep. Paul Renner of District 24, which covers parts of Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam counties.
“Entrepreneurs bring prosperity – not just for themselves and their families but provide jobs that didn’t exist before, which benefits the community. They also bring opportunities to people that they don’t have today,’’ Renner told the Daytona Times.
Government policies also have hurt Black businesses, but something can be done.
Renner said, “I think government’s role is to make sure that we are not like some other states that have put the brakes on prosperity and put barriers on opportunity.
“We need to make sure that we are creating an environment where businesses can prosper. Sometimes, government can be the problem and not the solution. I want to focus on lowering barriers to work and opportunity. If we do that, there will be more opportunities for everyone, including the Black community.”
OTHER OFFICIALS ATTEND
Gary Hollis represented U.S. Senator Rick Scott, who sent a letter supporting the AAEA and its efforts.
Other elected officials in attendance were Volusia County Councilwoman Barbara Girtman, Volusia County Court Seventh Judicial Circuit Judge Chris Miller and Daytona Beach City Commissioner Ruth Trager.
The gala was sponsored by Vystar Credit Union, Career Source Florida, Advent Health, University of Central Florida, Daytona State College, Hammock Beach Resort, TouchPoint Innovative Solutions, Palm Coast Ford, SCORE, Hilton Garden Inn, DME, Flagler County Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the University of Florida Master of Science in Entrepreneurship Warrington College of Business.