One is a local crafter who specializes in hand made baby clothes. Another is a state department employee by day and talent agent on the side. A third is the director of a local non-profit that teaches health and wellness to Ward 8 residents.
All are part of an emerging collective of entrepreneurs that meets monthly for a session known as Side Hustle Saturdays. The gathering, in the heart of Anacostia, is a chance for entrepreneurs to network and share ideas with other who are hustling to make it.
The mission is simple: help people handle their own business in this time of economic austerity and continued uncertainty.
“We have opportunities here in Ward 8 for economic development,” said Nikki Peele, 35, the blogger, activist and small businesswoman who started the event. “I think a lot of us had gotten used to the security of a check. But when people started losing jobs or hours, many of us were forced to start doing things that we always wanted to do but were afraid to because we didn’t want to lose that steady paycheck.”
Nearly 30 budding entrepreneurs showed up at The Hive for the inaugural meeting on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. last month. Their next meeting is Feb. 25.
Soyini George, 40, founded a handmade baby clothing business, Yinibini Baby, two years ago after she was laid off from the Smithsonian. Growing up, her father always told her to have a skill that she could turn into a business in case she was unemployed. Now, she makes dresses, bibs and washcloths for babies, items that are now sold in a dozen Whole Foods stores.
“It’s taken a lot of persistence and there’s a lot of room for growth but things are going well,” she said. She can’t yet live “comfortably” off of her business, but finds inspiration in the new group.
Veronica Davis, 32, a blogger and small business owner in Fairfax Village said the collective is outgrowth of a new generation of black Washingtonians less interested in working for the government and institutions and more focused on developing their own business ideas.
“What you see is that many of us are figuring out that the only way to work for a company that shares your values and gives you a level of freedom the we want is to start your own company,” said Davis, co-founder of Nspiregreen, an environmental consulting firm in Anacostia.
Barrington Little, 25, co-founder of NewLyfe Dezigns, a management company, began working with a visual artist, recently released from prison who has a talent for sketching portraits. Little and the artist, Samuel Capies, are hoping to get his work into galleries around the city.
“This is our baby,” said Little, referring to the project. Like the more than two dozen participants last month he traded ideas and business cards with his support group. “It’s great to see Anacostia coming back,” he said. “Who knows where we’ll be in five or 10 years.”
Peele, the organizer, said that in these times of economic hardship, black communities need to take command of their own development. “We need to get back to some mom and pop stuff,’ she said. “We’re going to have to get back to our roots.”
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