How The Makers Program Provides Support for Emerging Entrepreneurs of Color
St. Louis has proven itself to be a city ripe with possibilities for young emerging entrepreneurs. They are invited to take advantage of a host of local opportunities that provide support to cultivate and launch their ideas. From Arch Grants—a startup competition that awards entrepreneurs $50,000—to Venture Café St. Louis, which aims to connect innovators via a variety of events and programming, entrepreneurs are tapping in to develop innovative businesses serving a wealth of industries and people.
Aware of the disparities that affect black and brown entrepreneurs specifically, both in St. Louis and around the globe, Shayba Muhammed founded The Makers Program to acknowledge entrepreneurs of color who are often overlooked. Aiming to nurture them in ways that could propel and diversify the entrepreneurial community in the city, the program’s 12-week lesson plan provides a host of fundamental resources needed to operate a successful business.
As Muhammed prepares for the celebration of the inaugural cohort and the announcement of a second, Guided: St. Louis talked with her about the impetus behind both The Maker’s Program and Maker’s Mart—a curated pop-up shopping event with a spirit of empowerment—and why both are crucial additions to the fertile, and arguably budding, ground of young and emerging entrepreneurship in St. Louis.
Guided: What was the impetus behind starting The Makers Program and Makers Mart?
A few different things motivated me. I saw a lack of opportunity and access to resources in the black and Latino communities. I made it a point to focus on solutions and what puzzle pieces could be added that were missing. Entrepreneurship can not only be a vehicle to success in ways that traditional paths may not be accessible to everyone, but it also create more small businesses, which can only stand to benefit St. Louis as a whole.
Guided: As an entrepreneur yourself—you started your own accessories line, Mahnal, in 2018—what are some obstacles you’ve come across as a woman of color?
Many of the obstacles I’ve faced as a black woman have been battling with internalized messaging from the world around me. I haven’t had too many “in your face” instances of disrespect, but [I have had] the subtle messaging that inspires doubt, a lack of confidence, a feeling of not belonging. These are things I’ve had and in some cases still struggle against entering new and unfamiliar spaces. This is where I often have to pull from a source beyond the limits of my own ability, and that is my faith.
Guided: Why do you think The Makers Program is needed in a city such as St. Louis?
When we talk about poverty and unemployment, entrepreneurship and the creation of small businesses has a measurable impact and tangible results. I believe resources and guidance for black and Latino creatives is needed everywhere, but St. Louis is the perfect home because we’re in the middle of a renaissance of sorts for startups. There’s a lot of interest and enthusiasm surrounding creative ventures specifically in St. Louis right now, but we don’t see a lot of the really exciting and innovative businesses brown folks are building garnering support in the same way. It’s a great time to be a maker, an artist, an entrepreneur. The Makers Program is equipping black and brown creatives with the tools to tap into that. A program like this is a win-win for everyone.
Guided: What are the requirements to be considered for the program?
The mission of The Makers Program is to aid black and Latino artists in building scalable, product-based businesses. I sometimes say black and brown because this is also inclusive of my indigenous family in the community as well. You also don’t have to be a fine artist or an artisan, but you do have to be the designer of what you’re creating. As the program exists today, you must have or be in the process of starting up a product-based business.
Guided: What do participants receive?
The makers that are accepted into the program receive instruction from industry experts in a 12-week, multi-phase program. They not only connect and build relationships with these professionals and organizations, but they also gain a peer group of support. Within this framework, we cover topics including branding, marketing, pricing, taxes and bookkeeping—really all of the fundamentals needed to approach scalability. On the last week, we celebrate with The Makers Mart pop-up.
You announced your new cohort earlier this year. Congratulations! What types of ideas and businesses are included in it?
There could not have been a better group of ingenues and creative makers for our inaugural cohort. I was really impressed with some of the products they have, ranging from whimsical illustrated stationery to beautiful Ankara textile head wraps. The talent is amazing.
Guided: What is your long-term goal?
The long-term goal for The Makers Program is to continue with the growth and development process with business owners. This would be through stages including investments, operating a brick-and-mortar, high-level strategy and business architecture. The goal is to aid in building healthy businesses that not only last but can scale, create jobs and really benefit the community.
Guided: What do you find particularly special about launching a business in St. Louis?
I’m from St. Louis and plan to stay put and invest in my home. Aside from feeling a sense of responsibility for where I come from, I just so happen to also be in a place that really is unique for its size and the opportunities that exist here. It’s not so small that it can’t support innovation and creative new ideas, but it isn’t so large that it feels like a rat race. It’s a sweet spot right in the middle and perfect for launching a business that needs wiggle room.
Guided: How long have you been hosting The Makers Mart?
The first Makers Mart pop-up was in 2017, and the reception was phenomenal. That first event was really the precursor to The Makers Program in that I was able to test, do surveys and capture data to figure out if the idea was viable. Was this something black and brown makers wanted? Was this something the community was interested in? I learned so much and took all of that information to serve exactly what the area’s makers wanted.
Guided: You have an upcoming Maker’s Mart on April 7. Can you give me more details about the event and what local brands will be there?
This is the second Makers Mart event and the first celebration of our very first cohort! It’s a free event from 12 to 4 p.m. at the Centene Center for the Arts. We’ll have some activities like a vision board workshop, a little networking and a giveaway. I think this second time around will be even more fun than the first. I’m really excited to invite the community to come out and shop, get to know the artists and really celebrate and have a good time with us.