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Tampa Bay Chamber ready to 'accelerate' next batch of minority-owned businesses

Battling disparities, the chamber is now taking applications for its Minority Business Accelerator
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Posted at 7:02 AM, Jul 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-13 08:27:24-04

TAMPA, Fla. — “Pour into the community, and you’ll never be poor.”

Ashley Butler strives to personify that adage. The successful entrepreneur was helped and is now ready to help others.

Butler, an Ice Cold Air franchisee, said she landed her job through pure serendipity. Years ago, still a budding entrepreneur at the time, she stumbled into Ice Cold Air’s owner at a Panera Bread in Tampa.

“He said, ‘Hey man, I’m looking for young entrepreneurs,’ after a little bit of conversation. And about six months later, they recruited me in to be a franchisee,” she remembered.

She now runs the location on S. Dale Mabry Hwy. in Tampa, where she solves all kinds of automotive issues.

“We do brakes, belts, tune-ups, engine lights, tires,” Butler said. “Figuring things out — solving issues — has always been something that I like to do.”

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During the past few years, she’s also had to solve issues outside the auto shop’s busy garage. Namely, she’s had to navigate the challenges of running a business, which has proven especially tough for many business owners during a global pandemic.

“Just learning how to manage yourself mentally through the ups and downs, and ebbs and flows of business, I think that’s the toughest part,” she said.

Luckily, the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce poured Butler a blessing.

Butler was one of the students — or cohorts — of the Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator. The accelerator is an intensive, multi-year program that connects Black and Hispanic-owned businesses with mentorship opportunities and the know-how to overcome business barriers.

As the Chamber’s website explains, “By providing practical tools for change, program participants are positioned to increase capacity, create jobs, and build wealth.”

“We all know, on the other side of comfort is all of our dreams, so I’m glad that I took them up on the opportunity,” said Butler.

Now, the Tampa Bay Chamber is looking for its next class of minority entrepreneurs to continue battling a racial disparity. In Hillsborough County, for instance, 48% of businesses are minority-owned, but they account for just 5% of the total revenue in the county, according to the chamber.

Derek Mateos, the son of Cuban immigrants, would like to see that gap narrow.

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Derek Mateos of Matcon Construction Services

Mateos, the President and CEO of Matcon Construction Services, was one of the first participants of the Minority Business Accelerator. He said the process required a significant investment of time, but it paid dividends.

“You’re vulnerable, man. I mean, you’re uncomfortable,” Mateos said. “You know, you’re talking about things that maybe you don’t typically talk about, but you’ve got these experts there to sort of help guide you through that, and then you’ve got your fellow cohort companies that are, you know, maybe have had some real issues, and they’re helping you and you’re helping them, so that’s very special.”

“That’s the secret to having diversity and people looking like us at the table. We can help them shake off the cobwebs,” added Butler, who, like Mateos, encourages other minority-owned businesses to apply. “You’ve got to learn how to say my favorite four-letter word: help. You’ve got to learn to ask for help.”

Butler, now reaping the benefits of the help she received, is ready to pay it forward and mentor other entrepreneurs.

As the hum of auto work drones behind her, she glowingly says the adage she lives by out loud.

“Pour into the community, and you’ll never be poor.”

According to the Tampa Bay Chamber, the minimum qualifications for consideration are:

  • Black or Hispanic owned and operated business (>51%)
  • Headquartered in Tampa Bay (Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk or Manatee Counties)
  • Current business plan with a well-defined growth strategy 
  • Annual Gross Revenue of $500,000+

Apply for consideration at this link.