Partner Spotlight: Start:ME Evanston

Start:ME: Xavier University accelerator focuses first on Evanston micro-entrepreneurs

In Cincinnati’s Evanston neighborhood, Xavier University is more than a long-time anchor institution – it is a champion of the neighborhood’s revitalization, facilitating partnerships and resources for education, professional development and community building.

A year-old program developed by Xavier’s Williams College of Business is focused on providing training critical for Evanston small-business success. Xavier’s accelerator program helps train the neighborhood’s most-promising micro-entrepreneurs, arming them with mentorship support and early-stage financing.

Start:ME is an intensive 14-week accelerator program that is free to participants; the program is funded and operated by dedicated, experienced community leaders and business professionals.

“The idea came from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, and began with two simple questions: what are the assets in the community and how can we help the community to grow those assets?” said Dawn Tolonen, Program Director. “We believe growing small businesses moves a community.”  The program is designed to work with micro-entrepreneurs (4 or fewer employees),” she added.

Start:ME Evanston Graduating Class 2017

The 2017 Start:ME Evanston Graduating Class

For underserved communities, access to networks and capital is limited.  The first accelerator training launched last January, with seven individuals working across areas like construction, food sales and salon services.  The program took them through everything from the start of developing a business idea to refining the idea for business, followed by a solid business plan.  Additional support and expertise was shared in the areas of financial planning, legal training (to consider LLC or sole proprietorship), marketing for consumers, and actual sessions where they pitched their business plan to bankers.  BB&T and PNC are the sponsoring partners, supporting operating costs and loan fund for the overall program.

Tolonen is pleased with the initial results and credits partnership as key to future success, “The salon owner from our first class is doing really well and her business is growing.  She initially only offered hair and nails and is now adding pedicure stations to her shop.  It’s great to see how the program is making a difference.”

Marsha Lane, Trendsetter Hair Studio and 2017 Star Entrepreneur, with Ms. Anzora Adkins, Evanston Community Council President

“Darin Hall (EVP, Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority) has been a big proponent for this work.  He was involved in the original start up beginning at the Evanston Recreation Center and throughout the process,” Tolonen said.

GCRA is working to redevelop neighborhood business districts and identify minority entrepreneurs to participate as tenants in the places where it targets public and private investment.

“Minority entrepreneurs as a class have faced significant barriers to business creation, accessing capital, and training as compared to their majority peers,” Mr. Hall said. “We see Xavier’s program as an important component to providing residents and vulnerable populations opportunity to participate in the region’s growth and revitalization.”

Founding program partners include the Evanston neighborhood, Community Building Institute, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

The first 2018 Start:ME cohort launched this month and there is interest in expanding into other neighborhoods as well.

“We would love to expand, but are limited in resources.  We need more community groups to get involved.”

About Start:Me

Contact Dawn Tolonen at for additional information.