Kira Bolling sees her new business location as a chance to spread some “sunshine,” just as she recalls her mother doing.
Katy Cole calls her new business in the same Graham Drive building a “spiritual thing” that she approaches prayerfully.
For Abraham Williams, executive director of the Housing Authority of Bowling Green, Bolling and Cole are simply the most concrete examples of how a year-old HABG program is helping aspiring entrepreneurs turn their ideas into money-making enterprises.
Cole’s Katy’s Creative Catering restaurant is already open at 305 Graham Drive, a building that was once home to a Warren County Public Library branch but has now been transformed into the HABG Small Business Development Place.
Bolling’s A Taste of Sunshine business, specializing in cupcakes of all sizes, will follow suit with a September opening, giving Housing Authority residents a couple of food options right in their neighborhood.
“It’s important that we’re able to put these businesses in the middle of our community,” Williams said. “It’s within walking distance for some of our elderly residents and gives them options for food.”
And the new businesses provide more, serving as examples in the HABG community of how simple ideas can sprout into viable enterprises.
“A lot of people have good ideas and just need some assistance,” Williams said. “Other people have seen what we’re doing, and it’s generating interest among other young entrepreneurs.”
So much interest that Williams said the POP-UP (People’s Opportunity Program for Underserved Populations) program started last year by the HABG in partnership with local banks has already made 14 loans to small businesses.
The POP-UP program was initiated by local businessman Don Vitale, who approached Williams about utilizing the HABG’s Live the Dream Development nonprofit arm to start a loan pool that would help minority and low-income residents with business startups.
Five banks – US Bank, Independence Bank, BB&T, American Bank & Trust and Franklin Bank & Trust – and some private donors stepped up to give the POP-UP program a pool of about $100,000 to get started.
That pool has grown, as has interest in the POP-UP program, according to HABG Small Business Consultant Dawn Bolton.
“I have met with 52 clients, representing 45 businesses, who are in various stages of business development,” Bolton said at last week’s ribbon-cutting for the Small Business Development Place.
Bolton said more than $100,000 in low-interest loans (which are capped at $10,000 each) have been awarded since POP-UP’s inception.
And the POP-UP clients receive more than financial assistance.
“I see myself in the role of teaching, guiding and encouraging,” Bolton said. “My POP-UP clients know their day-to-day business and know it well. My job is to give them the business terminology and knowledge to present their businesses, in the form of a business plan and financial statements, to a board of recognized businesspeople to secure a loan.”
Such guidance and the work of the HABG to renovate the Graham Drive building have helped Bolling and Cole realize their dreams.
“It (POP-UP) is a great help for people who have good ideas but not the finances,” Bolling said. “They see the potential and the vision.”
Bolling, who has worked as a hair stylist for 25 years while dabbling in baking, sees A Taste of Sunshine as a way for her to emulate the community service her late mother Alice Whitlow provided by cooking for Meals on Wheels and other organizations over the years.
“My mom is the sunshine,” Bolling said. “Our home when I was growing up was about three minutes from here. It’s important for me to serve this community.”
Cole, who is already serving meals through takeout and some limited seating, said the POP-UP loan and the Small Business Development Place have helped her realize her dream of preparing and serving meals for a living.
After years of working in retail or in housekeeping, Cole worked briefly as head cook at the Village Manor senior living community.
That job only whetted Cole’s appetite for food service, but starting her own restaurant seemed like a financial impossibility until the POP-UP program came along.
“Everything I looked at was so astronomically expensive,” she said. “They (HABG) make it affordable so you don’t go broke.”
Cole, who describes the offerings at Katy’s Creative Catering as “old-time country cooking,” said she shares Bolling’s desire to serve the HABG community.
“This is a spiritual thing for me,” she said. “I pray when I cook, and I try to make a connection with every person I come in contact with in this business.”
The success of Bolling and Cole has led Williams to consider expanding the POP-UP program’s business incubator service to other properties, even outside the HABG community.
“The biggest challenge for many people is finding a reasonable place to rent,” he said. “We’re trying to find moderate-priced places they can afford. We’re looking at other places in town.”
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdaily news.com.