There are plenty of minority business owners with established and profitable ventures, but they lack the experience, connections and knowledge to grow their small businesses into bigger businesses. Erie County Legislature Chairwoman April Baskin developed the Level Up program a year ago to bridge that gap.
Since that time, Baskin said, major companies have stepped forward to help small, minority businesses reach a wider audiences, and the Buffalo Sabres organization is the latest to assist.
To help expand businesses’ experience and reach, the Sabres have partnered with Level Up to set up temporary shops on the 100-level of KeyBank Center and sell minority business retail products now through March 12. Eight Black business owners will have the opportunity to sell everything from skin care products and chocolates to candles and jewelry. Diversity Shop stations will be set up during Sabres games on both the east and west sides of the arena.
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“These business owners are going to be able to understand what it’s like to be able to engage with an audience of this magnitude, and what it will take for them to someday be able to be considered for the future in our new stadium,” Baskin said from the floor of KeyBank Center on Monday.
Level Up was created to give underrepresented, small business owners access to the resources and coaching they need to compete in the broader marketplace.
When the program was launched last year, Baskin pointed out that while the new Bills stadium deal has a goal of 30% of minority and women-owned businesses participating in the construction and operations, many underrepresented businesses aren’t eligible to bid because they lack the proper certifications, capacity and experience.
The Level Up program was designed to help businesses meet red tape requirements, qualify for venture capital and grant money, and form partnerships with major corporations willing to break down giant vendor contracts into bite-sized pieces so that smaller companies with limited capacity can succeed and grow their capacity over time.
“We have successfully, over the last year, been able to partner 50 businesses with 25 different corporations across Erie County and generated over a million dollars in contracts directly developed by major corporations in Western New York to marginalized business owners,” Baskins said.
The Sabres are providing a temporary space, in honor of Black History Month, for retail-oriented business owners to showcase their work. Each of the eight businesses that will have its products featured at Sabres games also will receive a $1,000 business grant. They also will participate in a Bills stadium retailers workshop with Legends Hospitality.
Featured businesses during Sabres games at KeyBank Center are as follows:
- Feb. 12: Najah Corp. and Skincare Essentials By Jill.
- Feb. 25: Elle James Decor and Black Monarchy.
- March 3: Melanin Skyn Co. and Skinny Wick Candle Co.
- March 12: Nikki’s Chocolates WNY and Charm Handmade Jewelry.
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