Roanoke Times: Gauntlet competition rewards efforts to help others succeed

It’s hard to miss the hot-pink building that sits off the corner of 24th Street and Shenandoah Avenue.

Black Diamond Beauty Salon is the product of Habibah Yasin’s dream to own her own business and positively influence her community — whether that means giving free haircuts or mentoring troubled youth in the neighborhood.

“Habibah will see that the kids can’t afford haircuts, and she’ll put them in the chair and cut it anyways,” said Deborah Thomas, a friend of Yasin.

The single mother of three inherited the two-story brick building in northwest Roanoke and started the beauty salon from scratch eight years ago. She had only five clients when it opened, but she’s expanded the business to more than 150 regular clients.

However, Yasin’s business plans don’t just stop at cutting hair — her next goal is to expand Black Diamond Beauty Salon into an accredited beauty school that will provide students an opportunity to earn their own income in a community that is often riddled with poverty.

“I personally know what it’s like to have nothing,” Yasin said. “But I’ve flourished into a young woman that owns her own business.”

Yasin, 34, was one of 14 entrepreneurs who pitched her idea Saturday as part of a competition held by the Advancement Foundation. The event, called The Gauntlet, was set up similar to the TV show “Shark Tank,” in which hopeful entrepreneurs presented their business ideas to judges in the hopes of winning grant money and prizes.

Annette Patterson, Advancement Foundation founder and president, said this was the first time the event was held, and organizers were interested to gauge the community’s interest. So far, they’ve been ecstatic with the response they’ve gotten.

“We didn’t get a single ‘no’ when we asked for help from sponsors,” Patterson said.

About 30 people showed up to the all-day event that was held in the Grandin CoLab. The competition was divided into two categories — seven business entrepreneurs pitched ideas and seven others pitched community concepts. The top prize for each category was $1,000, with the runner-up receiving $500. There were also several business partners that offered services such as graphic design and business consultation for additional winners.

According to the Los Angeles Business Journal, 87 percent of businesses that started in an incubator are still in business five years later — a statistic that reinforces to Patterson what the foundation is working to accomplish.

The Advancement Foundation’s business incubator is in its first year and has already shown to be a great success, Patterson said.

The entrepreneurs were selected from a pool of 25 applicants to go through a six-month program leading up to the event. They participated in classes to help them learn basic business strategies such as finance and strategic planning and practiced their pitches in front of group members.

“It’s been an amazing journey to see the advisers and entrepreneurs work together,” Patterson said.

With the premier Gauntlet event being so successful, the foundation has already begun planning the second one that will be held in October. Patterson envisions the competition expanding to include more entrepreneurs and hopes to offer more cash for winners.

“We have all walks of life participating today — individuals who were homeless, middle-income people as well as professionals,” she said. “We’re erasing socioeconomic boundaries.”

For Yasin, starting a beauty school is a chance to be a positive influence to her students. She had familiar competition though — her brother Khalid Jones was one of the seven business entrepreneurs competing with her.

Jones, 40, operates a barber shop on 11th Avenue and is looking to start the Community Cultivators Barber Academy. He said he currently has 20 men waiting to enroll, he just needs funding to get it started.

The brother-sister duo took home the two top prizes in the business entrepreneur category.

“Your project represents everything we want to happen in this community,” Patterson told Jones as she handed him the top prize of $1,000. Yasin took home the runner-up prize of $500.

“This is our opportunity to go out and use ourselves as examples for our community,” Jones said.

Samantha Lukasiewicz

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