Jim Whitt, Columbia's director of supplier diversity, presented the 10 winners of the Sharp End Entrepreneurial Development Fund's first targeted grants program Monday at the Daniel Boone City Building.

Whitt manages the private investment fund named after the Sharp End black business district that was bulldozed during urban renewal in the 1960s. The fund is intended to grow local minority- and women-owned businesses.

Grants for the winners ranged from $1,400 to $3,150.

Karita Moss of Key Solutions, a consulting company for small- and medium-sized businesses, said the grant for a leadership development certificate will help her help others.

The MU grad, who is also a project manager for IBM, said, "I've had my own journey through the corporate world, and now I want to use my expertise to maximize the managerial potential of individuals and businesses."

Key Solutions has worked with IBM as well as Veterans United and Urban Empowerment Ministries in Columbia.

Brooke Bartlett received a $3,150 grant for shelf-life testing and packaging equipment for her gourmet popcorn business.

"As an entrepreneur, it feels good to have financial support, but also to have your entrepreneurship validated," Bartlett said during her acceptance speech. "It can be lonely, and you question yourself, because you know ... popcorn, but I am excited to expand regionally because I believe I have the best popcorn in Missouri."

The grants are not funded by the city, but Whitt hopes some day they will be.

In 2013, the city commissioned the Plan For Economic and Minority Inclusion from local consultants Byndom, Stanton and Associates. The consultants' six-month search found just 125 minority-owned businesses, or less than 1% of businesses in Boone County.

"Minorities struggle with starting businesses because there is often limited access to capital," Whitt said. "A lot of people can't pull equity from their home to get a loan, or they can't ask family for money to get started. This fund is meant to bridge that gap."

In September 2015, the Columbia City Council passed a resolution to "recognize the need to enhance the disadvantaged business community," and made Whitt the city's first supplier diversity director. In that role, Whitt has held expositions for women- and minority-owned businesses and helped businesses get the proper certifications needed to apply for government contracts.

At the time, Anthony Stanton, who wrote the plan, said the city should pass an ordinance requiring diversity on city contracts, saying he felt the resolution "didn't have enough teeth." There are still only 132 minority-owned businesses in the city's database, created by Whitt using data from the report.

Whitt said he has another $20,000 program planned for this year and is looking for investment from the community.

The winners of the first targeted grants program were:

  • Anthony Conway, owner of Cars 4 Columbia
  • Ernest Daniels, Exclusive Cuts barbershop owner
  • Brooke Bartlett, owner of GoPo Gourmet Popcorn
  • Kathleen Trauth, owner of Infiltronics Environmental civil engineering firm
  • Karita Moss, Key Solutions consulting owner
  • Teresa Crews, owner of Maid EZ Cleaning
  • DJ Henderson, owner of MuchMO"w" LLC
  • Tammy Nobles, owner of Noble Necessities
  • Peter Myles, owner of Picture That Media
  • Rachael Zan, owner of YouNique Beauty Supply
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