Free Black Business Program Helps Companies Grow Bigger
By Dianne Anderson
Coming to California in 2005, Kevyn Lee could hardly imagine the finely shaved iced fluffy Sno-Ball shop that he owns today.
With no job, not enough money, and in the heat of his travels, he craved a little taste of back home, a New Orleans Sno-Ball where none were to be found.
“The only thing they had was frozen yogurt and ice cream,” he said.
Born in raised in New Orleans, Lee drove west nonstop two days after Hurricane Katrina hit, after his entire community was wiped out in the east Ninth Ward, but his family survived.
“I lost all my clothes, the only thing I was able to salvage was my car and the clothes on my back,” he said.
What he had was a fresh undergraduate degree. He registered with Red Cross for the $1,000 gift card, and promptly bought shirts and suits for a corporate career job hunt that eventually led him to become vice president of operations at a major food company.
But it wasn’t until COVID-19 that he decided to move on his first California dream, and create Fluffy’s Sno-Balls.
“Everyone thought I was crazy because California had strict restrictions. Everyone in the restaurant business was shut down and I wanted to open up,” he said.
Lee worked four months straight until April 2021 on the new local concept. Back home, Sno-Balls sold in small shops, but he wanted a high-end Mardi Gras-centric experience with colors of gold, purple and green, a touch of glitter on the walls.
His unique treats started with 35 flavors, now at 67, including one fast favorite Ghirardelli chocolate and vanilla syrup wrapped in condensed milk, stuffed with french vanilla ice cream, topped with fresh Oreo cookies.
“We have the largest sugar-free flavor selection for diabetics or people on a diet,” he said. “The Sno-Balls will speak for themselves, but the customer service takes it over the top.”
After a year, his logo is finally patent trademarked.
His business acumen developed with Fortune 500 companies, but he attributes the refinement of planning to the local Black Business Strategies program. It helped him craft a capability statement, and understand the importance of certifications. Of his seven certifications, one allows him to operate at the airport when he’s ready.
“I wasn’t aware of the benefits of certifying my company as a Minority Business Enterprise. It also helped me formulate a [company] sales proposition, which allowed me to have a more focused marketing strategy in targeting my customers,” he said.
Another notable success was catering big client, Netflix. He also caters a school district, private weddings, parties and conventions, and upcoming, to a large healthcare company serving 600 people.
But for Lee, recognizing the responsibility of being a Black entrepreneur is a priority. He has five-star reviews, and he also supports the community with appreciation events. Students were offered free Sno-Balls in the entire fourth quarter 2021, and he gives away monetary and gift cards.
Even so, he has to stand strong through life’s trials. His place was vandalized several times, but he remains undaunted.
“I can’t control what happens to me in life. I only can control my response to it,” he said.“What happens next is that I come from a heritage of people that have the strength to get up and get through and get over all obstacles that have come their way.”
Joseph Jackson, Black Business Strategies lead advisor, said the program helps businesses deal with all the foundational technical assistance to get through the hard places.
Ongoing BBS cohorts are drawing attention from as far away as Nebraska, but the program wants to stay relatively small and local so Black business owners can get the one-on-one counseling they need.
So far, they’ve hosted four 12-week cohorts with 12 participants each cycle. To participate, businesses should have a year and a half in operation with at least two employees and $125,000 in annual revenues. However, they have accepted companies with lesser revenues, or a one-person operation.
“The feedback that I’ve gotten has been very strong,” he said. “They speak to specific benefits from applying the lessons we shared in the program, that are meaningful and practical for them.”
For those not yet ready for prime time, he points to the Long Beach Small Business Development Center, which is under the umbrella of SBA, and offers many free resources to grow businesses to meet the entry point into BBS.
Jackson, who has a background in program management, commended long-time community leader Darick Simpson for providing his vision to educate, grow and bring technical assistance with access to capital to the community.
“From a business education standpoint, cash flow analysis, business tax issues, to social media and marketing, personnel management and hiring, a lot of the time, some of those things get overlooked in launching a business,” he said.
Simpson, president of the Miller Foundation, was one of the founders of Black Business Strategies. He emailed Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach, where Dean Michael Solt connected with Ted Hiatt, Associate Regional Director for the Los Angeles Small Business Development Center Network, which set Black Business Strategies in motion.
Black business support was the first goal, but another of Simpson’s suggestions was police reform.
Shortly after George Floyd was murdered, a group of Black leaders met in Long Beach at a local church where everyone expressed their pain, but Simpson left frustrated that something needed to be done. He and Bishop W. Todd Irvin and Pastor Welton Pleasant followed up, brainstorming ways to support Black businesses.
“Because it is the pillar of the Black community with pride of ownership and opportunities for those who can’t get a job elsewhere. It was an opportunity to be reflective of leadership roles that feed back into our local economy,” he said.
He connected with CSULB international police reform experts, and passed their white paper onto the city’s police chief. Since then, elements were adopted that continue today with monthly community advisory meetings to review department policies and procedures.
“Those two initiatives came out of those meetings in my office with those two pastors,’ said Simpson, who is also an advisor to CSULB president Dr. Jane Close Conoley.
Once he planned the Black Business Strategies program and brought Long Beach City College and Cal State University Long Beach together, he got out of the way.
“The two entities got together and put the meat on the bones to create a program, meeting once a week for about seven weeks and eight local business at that first cohort. It brought the best of the best talent of the SBDC,” said Simpson, who served as the first interim director of SBDC over a decade ago when it started at LBCC.
To submit a BBS application, see https://smallbizla.org/black-business-strategies/