Epicenter helps get Black-owned businesses off the ground in Memphis

Black History Month

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Business ownership is one key to wealth, and a center in Memphis is helping entrepreneurs unlock what it takes to make it on their own.

The Entrepreneurship Powered Innovation Center, known as Epicenter, has a special focus on making sure African American-owned businesses thrive. The small center, located in the Cooper-Young neighborhood, is an entrepreneur’s dream.

“Studies show many small businesses feel they will be declined for capital before they even apply,” said Anthony Young, the capital executive of Epicenter.

That’s why Epicenter is connecting businesses with the grants and loans that will allow them to grow — especially Black-owned businesses.

Epicenter has helped more than 1,000 entrepreneurs and 500 businesses since 2015. Sixty percent of those were African American.

“Particularly in a city like Memphis, which is predominantly Black, I think it helps to support the local economy as well as helping to bridge the wealth gap,” Young said.

Things are about to get busy for Premier Flowers as they prep for Valentine’s Day. Owner Colby Midgett has been stepping up to the challenge since she opened her flower shop six years ago.

“Floristry is a tough industry to tap into,” Midgett said — and for an African American female, it can be even tougher.

But EPI has been a bright spot for her. Her business is in the middle of a growth phase, and sometimes just the right connections can make all the difference.

“Small businesses need it, especially African American businesses,” she said.

Jessica Taveau, the interim CEO of the Epicenter, said goal is to connect entrepreneurs with resources and provide a space where start-ups can start out and not worry so much about overhead.

Entrepreneurs can rent out space and set up an office in the Cooper Street building, or just drop in and use the facility for a meeting.

“We are always working harder to expand our networks and reach, particularly Black-owned businesses, and ensure the resources we are providing here in the county are accessible, easy to find and equitable for everyone,” Taveau said.

It’s also about believing in the businesses. That’s what the media company Kudzukian found when it connected with Epicenter.

“They gave us a chance. They believed in us. That’s all we asked for, just give us a chance.” Kudzukian owner Larry Robinson said.

Robinson said the partnership came at a good time, as Kudzukian was expanding to meet a growing  demand for virtual services from its clients in corporate America.

Epicenter helped with the resources to buy more equipment, and also turned to Kudzukian for its own virtual needs.

“They have provided an opportunity that other people could then look at our company and say, ‘Look at what they are doing for Epicenter,'” Robinson said.

Epicenter is not only about helping businesses get started. There are also classes on helping people decide if they even want to start a business.

With African American business owners typically facing more challenges in their start-ups, the Epicenter has been focusing on how to close that gap, whether it means moving to a new and larger studio like Kudzukian or buying a new refrigerator for storing products at Premier Flowers.

“Epicenter has been a phenomenal partner,” Robinson said.

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