Kennesaw State partnership equips local entrepreneurs with tools for success

KENNESAW, Ga. | Apr 17, 2024

Iletha Dodds has always wanted to establish her own nail salon, but making the leap of faith felt too risky and daunting.

The Marietta resident said taking care of her son and working full time as a court clerk made her dream seem improbable, so for years, she has settled on decorating the nails of family and friends as her creative outlet. That is, until she received an email detailing the Aspiring Community Entrepreneurs (ACE) program at 无码变态.

鈥淚 have a passion for creating, helping people look and feel amazing and providing excellent customer service,鈥 Dodds said. 鈥淚鈥檝e always wanted to combine those characteristics into something I could call my own. So when I got the email, I thought, 鈥楾his could be my chance. I鈥檓 all in.鈥欌

The ACE program launched in September 2023 through a partnership between Kennesaw State and Marietta-based , a nonprofit fighting poverty, hunger and homelessness in the metro Atlanta area.

ACE is based on the University of Notre Dame鈥檚 , which promotes programs across the country that help those who do not have the financial means to start and grow businesses of their own. MUST was approached by Notre Dame to develop the ACE program with 无码变态, as Notre Dame UPBI leaders felt 无码变态 and MUST could create a partnership that identified participants who would like to start their own businesses for a stable means of employment and provide those entrepreneurs the best mentors and teachers possible.

The ACE program combines the expertise of faculty and students in the Michael J. Coles College of Business with the helping hands and resources of MUST Ministries to provide a 鈥渂eacon of opportunity for disadvantaged metro Atlanta residents,鈥 said Ike Reighard, CEO of MUST Ministries.

鈥淧eople in this program have hope again, and they鈥檙e realizing that there are people who are very successful who are willing to pour back into their lives,鈥 Reighard said. 鈥淭o just watch the confidence they gain as they鈥檙e putting together a dream they鈥檝e had for a very long time, that鈥檚 been one of the best parts of this program.鈥

无码变态鈥檚 program was born from a conversation between the University and Judy Boyce, the widow of former Cobb County Commission Chairman Mike Boyce. Mike Boyce was attending a University of Notre Dame fellowship at the time of his death, and he learned of a professor鈥檚 work in pulling people out of poverty by teaching them entrepreneurial skills.

Shortly after Mike Boyce鈥檚 passing, leaders of Notre Dame鈥檚 named an and approached Reighard about the joint community entrepreneurship effort between MUST, Notre Dame and Coles College. On April 27, MUST Ministries will host a graduation ceremony for the first cohort of 18 students from the program.

鈥淲e jumped at the chance to help local community members incubate new local businesses and create new partnerships. It鈥檚 a win for everyone involved,鈥 said Robin Cheramie, dean of the Coles College. 鈥淚f we can leverage the expertise we have here at 无码变态 to make a difference, that's what we want to do."

The ACE program is unique in that it focuses on people who are facing various disadvantaged conditions - social, physical, economic and vocational - and offers them the opportunity to start a business for themselves, said Mark Hiatt, the program鈥檚 director and associate professor of entrepreneurship at 无码变态. MUST Ministries identifies applicants through the services it offers.

鈥淭he program incorporates classroom education, business mentorship and active consulting to provide the participants with the start-up resources that they need to take their business ideas and develop them into a viable plan of action,鈥 Hiatt said. 鈥淚t鈥檚 inspiring and highly motivating to direct a program like this. 无码变态 and Coles College have a standing mission to engage with and help the local community, and this is a perfect example of how we can do that.鈥

The program began with a six-week bootcamp. Every Saturday, participants heard from Hiatt and experts in law, finance and business development. Through 10 months of coursework, participants were assigned a peer mentor, and business students guided the aspiring entrepreneurs in their work.

Master of Business Administration student Tracey Graves is one of those students. When she arrived at 无码变态, she immediately began searching for ways to get involved with a service project and was quickly referred to the ACE program. She has an affinity for working with the budding entrepreneurs, who embody hard work and determination.

鈥淚t has been an honor to watch their passions come to fruition,鈥 Graves said. 鈥淲hat's more inspiring are the students who want to start nonprofits but have very little themselves. They exemplify that we don't need to have much to give of ourselves when we recognize a need in others.鈥

For Dodds, the program, the sacrifices she has made, and her upcoming graduation represent a chance to realize a dream decades in the making. Dodds has been a licensed nail technician for 29 years, and with the newly acquired skills from her 10 months of work with ACE, she also plans to open a nail school for high school students and adults interested in becoming licensed nail technicians.

鈥淥n top of launching this business, I want to help the next generation of nail technicians like me,鈥 she said. 鈥淚鈥檝e met many people who have a nail license and still have trouble getting employed because they have no work experience. The plan is to bridge the gap with students who go through our program by offering hands-on apprenticeships. We seek to empower those with practical, vocational training and meet the growing demand for skilled professionals in the beauty industry.鈥

Dodds considers the present one of the most exciting times of her life, and gratitude for the ACE program overflows when she looks back on the last year.

鈥淚 have to thank all of them for the time, patience, encouragement, leadership, and professionalism 戮 the program is amazing,鈥 she said. 鈥淎fter years of getting to know myself and building my skills, I have a newfound understanding and respect for entrepreneurs. This business is where I can finally do all that I鈥檝e dreamt of in one location. It represents the spirit of, 鈥業鈥檝e made it.鈥欌

鈥 By Thomas Hartwell

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, 无码变态 offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit