Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Texas Entrepreneur and Prairie View Graduate Inspires Austin Youth to Achieve

By Shannon Prudhomme
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

Cover of Mittchell's self-published
book. To win an autographed copy,
scroll to the end of this article.

Photo courtesy of R. Mittchell
Most people never refer back to past homework assignments for inspiration, let alone to just review them. However, Ramont Mittchell, owner of Austin-based Supreme Clientele Hair and Massage Studio, referenced an assignment from an old college course and converted it into a successful business.

“A friend and I developed the idea for the business for my engineering economics course while at Prairie View [A&M University],” he said. “I am literally carrying out the exact concept now.”

The project detailed futuristic barbershops that included innovative technology for clients. “My business actually has a cafĂ©, private TV rooms and Wi-Fi internet for clients,” he said. “People can come on their lunch break and get their hair done.”

In addition to his salon, Mittchell is also an author and fitness trainer. “My philosophy is that everything I can do well, I will turn into a business,” he said. “I am essentially turning myself into a walking portfolio.”

The 35-year-old Detroit native said he committed himself to retiring at this age when he was a teenager - and he did just that! “Last year on my 35th birthday, I submitted my 30-day notice to Dell,” he said. “I figured whatever I was doing for myself at the point, that’s what I would do.”

The young entrepreneur honed his skills perfecting the hairlines of his undergraduate classmates while studying electrical engineering at Prairie View A&M University. “I realized I was good at it and enjoyed it, so I planned to open a barbershop after I graduated.”

After receiving his Bachelor of Science degree, he worked for Fortune 500 companies, including Dell, for three years to secure the capital he needed to fund his business aspirations. In 2006, he secured a facility and worked as the lone barber in the shop. “I started off with one person then, and now I have thirteen employees in 2011,” he said

Mittchell is just as proud and proactive about his charitable work as he is about this business. After recognizing his unique position as a barber and the potential to impact the lives of young males, he decided to use these opportunities to encourage and inspire his clients.

“People talk in salons,” Mittchell said. “I realized I had the opportunity to speak with so many male high school students who come in for haircuts.”

The multi-talented entrepreneur first decided to focus on having constructive dialogue with his clients, and serve as a positive role model. . “I wanted them to see that I own this business, and that I don’t just talk about success – I am success,” he said. “I started asking young black males about school and their favorite subject before discussing the latest basketball game.”  

Mittchell’s commitment to youth stems from his upbringing in a tough Detroit neighborhood. “If you think of the worst neighborhood scenario, that’s where I lived,” he said. “I want to show young people that they can be a success no matter where they come from.”

This philosophy and his desire to change the lives of young people motivated him to launch the Ramont Mittchell Foundation in 2006, which promotes “continuous investment in the development of self” to high school kids through academic, aptitude and attitude awareness. " 

Initially the organization offered free hair cuts and hair styling to high school students throughout the academic year, provided they maintained a certain grade point average. “That was the backbone of the Foundation,” he said. Mittchell also began to host annual school supply drives to provide resources to students in need.

Now, the organization is developing monthly sessions on leadership development, money management, healthy eating and entrepreneurship for high school students. “I try to get it in these young people’s heads that ‘hey, you don’t have to just cash the check – you can write the check’,” he said.

His salon staff and operations also serve as a positive example to his clients. Supreme Clientele’s maintains a strict dress code policy for both staff and clients, and only Rhythm and Blues music is played throughout the day. “I want both a child who is five-years-old and an 80-year-old to feel comfortable in my shop,” he said.

His future plans? “I’m working on two more books and I plan to franchise,” he said. His goal is to become what he refers to as “the Wal-Mart of barber shops.” In essence, he wants to offer clients everything they could possibly need from a personal service with regard to hair and nails.

Mittchell said he also aims to have a sustainable impact in the greater Austin area. “I’m here to support my community for the long haul, and I honestly just want people to remember me as being sincere,” he said. “Everything that I do comes from the right place.”

* CONTEST: Gulf Coast Philanthropy is giving away an autographed copy of Ramont Mittchell’s self-published poetry book, The Collection: Everyday Poems. Everyday People. To qualify, please complete the following steps: 1) Subscribe to our blog; 2) E-mail the Editor with your twitter name; and 3) Tweet our blog handle (@GCPhilanthropy) through Wednesday, June 1st at noon. The subscriber with the most tweets will win!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Flex space and mixed-use buildings: changing times, new opportunities

By Dodie Jiffar
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

Business incubators have been around a long time. They provide office space for small businesses and start-up companies that is shared, making it more affordable than locating office space individually.

Business incubators are usually sponsored by community organizations that promote entrepreneurship through education and mentorship. There can be intense competition for spots in these coveted incubators. But where there’s competition, there is innovation.
Enter the flex space. The term flex space typically refers to larger offices that have been updated to allow several types of business in a single location such as light manufacturing and shipping. But today’s flex space is more versatile and more accessible.

Americans are working from home in record numbers, either as a telecommuters or as a self-employed contractors. This shift has led to home offices becoming the norm, either as a stand-alone room in a home, or simply a small area carved out for a small workspace that can also serve as (or flex) as living space. This idea has also merged with the rise of mix used buildings.

Land developers and city planners across the U.S. are embracing the idea of mixed-use buildings, which allow consumers to live, work and shop in the same area in some cases. These buildings typically feature an anchor business, such as a bank or grocery store, as well service-based businesses, such as dry cleaners and restaurants. These anchor or service-based businesses may be located on the ground level, while the apartment or condo units are on the upper floors. This flexible model has been expanded to include the small business owner. Mixed-use buildings seeking to attract small business owners often provide an apartment or condo that is attached to a business space, which has a separate street level entrance from the living quarters.

A few examples of various mixed-use buildings in Gulf Coast states include Houston’s CityCenter, the Downtown Development District in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the award-winning Tapestry Park European Village in Jacksonvilla, Florida.

Depending on the type of business and location of the building, the cost of renting or buying this type of flex space in a mixed-use building is often much less expensive than seeking out a separate office. This concept allows more people to bring their business aspirations into reality. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cooperatives: Models of Community and Sustainability

By Dodie Jiffar
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

Today’s businesses are in fierce competition for customers. More and more, customers are aware that what they buy and where they buy it has a direct impact on our communities through sales tax and how businesses reinvest in the communities they serve.  Common ways that businesses reinvest in the community include offering scholarships, donating a percentage of their profits, or simply making regular contributions of money, services, or volunteer hours to charitable organizations. However, cooperative businesses go even further, defining their purpose and success in terms of how they support the community.

Cooperatives, commonly called co-ops are, “autonomous associations of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprises.” Examples of co-operative businesses include credit unions (this is why members of one credit union can use teller services and ATMs from another credit union free of charge), as well as some grocery stores and apartments complexes in large metropolitan cities. 

Cooperative businesses are based on 7 principles
1.      Voluntary and Open Membership
2.      Democratic Member Control
3.      Member Economic Participation
4.      Autonomy and Independence
5.      Education, Training and Information
6.      Cooperation among Cooperatives
7.      Concern for Community

Modern cooperatives typically view the seventh principle, concern for community, in terms of their relationship within the community and sustainability. They strive to build relationships with other coops and local businesses and to serve the people who live in the communities through charity events and education. Further, their business model is based on environmentally conscious growth that is sustainable and equitable.

To find cooperative businesses in your area, enter the following terms in a search engine:
“Cooperative + type of business/service + city”

Already know a great cooperative in the Gulf Coast Region?
Leave a comment on GCP!