To teach others the ins and outs of entrepreneurship is to empower them to explore their potential and help themselves using their own savvy and sweat. The byproduct – sometimes – is that a community might be empowered as well. That’s the aim of entrepreneurs coach Julian Young, a man whose commitment to teaching aspiring small business owners in North Omaha began after he turned his back on a life of crime and lifted himself up.
Young, 33, spent so much time in his late teens dealing drugs that he flunked out of Wayne State University twice. He liked to fight to solve problems, liked to party, and had no larger goal aside from earning a dollar through his illegal enterprise. He’d been arrested for shoving a cop, was facing jail time, and was lucky to be granted probation. By his own account he had hit rock bottom and succumbed to despair, lamenting the ugly pattern his life had become. “I had burned every relationship bridge to the ground by the time I was 19,” says Young.
Through force of will he shed his old life: stopped selling drugs, finished school and embraced the church, eventually becoming a minister while in his mid 20s. Running his own ministry in North Omaha, Nebraska, Young seemed to realize that there are other ways to transform communities besides sermonizing. Promoting economic empowerment can help too, and soon he began to preach the basics of entrepreneurship.
Today, Young is the owner of a coffee shop franchise in North Omaha and, perhaps more importantly, the founder of The Start Center for Entrepreneurship—a non-profit organization he launched in 2013 that teaches aspiring, largely minority small business owners vital lessons in entrepreneurship.
The Start Center provides accelerator programs for the various stages a business goes through as it launches and grows, as well as courses in leadership. The Center also allows entrepreneurs to attend workshops on the tools they can use to expand their enterprises, like promotion and marketing skills, how to borrow capital, and social media strategy. One-on-one mentoring is also available.
“We saw that there was tremendous talent in the inner city that falls through the cracks,” Young explains. On the macro-level, an organization like The Start Center is meant to alert would-be business owners in lower income communities to their economic potential by providing not just lessons but role models, he says, pointing out that “75% of our students don’t know anything about wealth creation and they’ve never been exposed to a successful business owner.”
To date, the organization has helped incubate more than 100 minority-owned businesses, Young says, and educated many more individuals with entrepreneurial dreams, or who simply want to know the basics of how to run a business—between 100 and 150 students per year. Students pay nothing to attend classes, but The Start Center has an alumni program that it pushes successful alumni to join for a cost of $25 per month—or however much they’d like to donate. Alumni also stop by to act as mentors for entrepreneurs-in-training enrolled in the program.
But back in 2014 the fledgling Start Center wasn’t really a center at all—its curriculum had been taught in a room on campus at the University of Nebraska and needed a dedicated physical location with more conference room space and parking. For a solution – and capital – Young reached out to a successful, more experienced entrepreneur who had local name recognition and sway: Don Eckles, co-founder and chairman of the board of Scooter’s Coffee – an Omaha-based franchise system that to date has grown to more than 220 locations and generated $80 million in sales in 2018.
“I cold-called him,” says Young, “and left a rather long voicemail.” That voicemail outlined what his Start Center was all about and asked for sponsorship help. Taken by Young’s tale, Eckles motivated to action and met with Young at Scooter’s headquarters to learn more about his vision. “One of the things we wanted to do was make a difference in people’s lives, particularly young folks,” Eckles told Forbes. “When Julian says people fall through the cracks, its not because the cracks are bigger there than anywhere else, I think its because a lot of folks don’t know all the opportunities that are out there.”
Eckles and Scooter’s invested $500,000 – slightly more expensive than the average Scooter’s shop – to establish a coffee shop in an old bank building in North Omaha, which offered space for Start Center classes. Young and his wife, Brittany, ran the shop for the company, and bought it as their own franchise in 2018.
Some of Young’s Start Center success stories include the Soco Café—a soul food truck company and catering business founded by entrepreneur Terrance Sheared, who developed the operation within the Start Center from the idea phase. “He went through all of the classes, and went through the one-on-one mentoring,” says Young. The next stage is to open a restaurant.
Another business that developed within the Start Center is Stable Grey. Founded in 2015 by CharDale Barnes and Theardis Young, the company focuses on digital media content, generating graphics, logos, videos and designing websites for clients.
Diana Bahn already owned a business when she enrolled at the Start Center—a commercial cleaning operation that had just begun breaking into the residential market. She and her business partner, however, parted ways. “She needed someone to show her how to start over because her partner gave her the residential side which had two or three clients,” explains Young. “We said, ‘we’re going to show you how to grow this thing,’ which she has!” Today Bahn’s business – called Two Girls Cleaning – has a staff of employees and a manager to help with operations.
Young himself is also eyeing his own business expansion. He has formed an LLC called Urban Coffee Partners, which will act as an operations company to run multiple Scooter’s locations. “Our goal is to continue to build these and also create opportunities for other folks in other areas to become franchisees as well.”