Q+A with 3 Minority Small Business Owners in Scale DSM
This article includes an interview with Lilly Okech, Cleaning for Hope, Isabel Contreras, La Michoacana Ice Cream, and Monica Reyes, Inmobiliaria, Inc., who answered questions about the Scale DSM Minority Business Accelerator.
How many years have you been in business?
Lilly: Four years, almost five.
Isabel: We are a family-owned business, and we have been in business for 17 years.
Monica: Two years, going on three.
What made you interested in the SCALE DSM Program?
Lilly: I want to grow my business.
Isabel: I wanted to learn how to work on my business, not only in my business, and how to grow it.
Monica: I developed a need to work on my business, not just in my business.
Where were you in the process of building your business when you started in the Scale DSM program?
Lilly: I was doing well but wanted to grow more.
Isabel: I wanted to expand my business. We had outgrown our space and needed to expand.
Monica: We are in the scaling process, and that has been all of 2022. I needed a support system to make the time to do the strategic planning.
What was one idea that you had about business ownership before the program that has been changed?
Lilly: I think my idea before joining the program was more like I want to do a business to serve the community but now, after attending the program, it’s more like I want to do a business to leave a legacy and build generational wealth.
Isabel: I am looking to expand and become a distributor for our ice creams.
What has been your favorite Scale DSM course?
Lilly: I’ve enjoyed learning about growth.
Isabel: They’ve all been really good. The strategic planning and finding my leadership skills sessions have been my favorites so far.
Monica: There’s not one specific session or course, but I really like the questions that our instructor, Ryan Bhattacharyya, asks us. I write them down to reflect on and I think reflecting is important. Ryan asks such good questions that challenge us to think in new ways and grow as an entrepreneur while exploring uncomfortable areas.
What has been the most surprising thing you have learned overall?
Lilly: Strategic planning, which I was not familiar with prior to the program.
Isabel: We work in our businesses and learning to remember to work on our business using strategic plans is something we’ve had to master. We’ve also learned about how to let our employees to do their work and letting the business run.
Monica: The most impactful thing I’ve learned has been hearing the stories of other entrepreneurs and how they started. This has helped me gain perspective. It’s nice to have that context that all businesses started at square one. It helps drive me forward.
What was the most important advice you learned from the CEO mentoring groups provided through the program?
Lilly: That building up the business so that it will run itself even when you’re not there is the goal.
Isabel: It’s been nice having someone to rely on and talk with about the problems we face. A lot of the problems are things others have faced before, and we can share ideas and work it out together.
Monica: The importance of sisterhood/brotherhood between business owners and the importance of collaboration and supporting other small businesses is integral. Learning from each other and being vulnerable with each other helps us grow.
What are some goals that you’ve created for yourself now that you’ve experienced Scale DSM?
Lilly: My latest goal is to generate more revenue.
Monica: My business card says CEO, but I was working in the business/in the trenches, and this class has helped me think higher level and more strategically.
What do you love about the Greater Des Moines (DSM) Small Business Community?
Lilly: I think the thing I love most about the small business community here is the beauty of people supporting one another. In DSM or Iowa, I feel like as a small business, we do our best to make sure that no one is left behind.
Isabel: There are resources for us to be able to grow our business.
Monica: I love that I see a lot of small immigrant or minority-owned businesses becoming a part of the community, and it feels like a powerful emerging group. It's great to see that the Greater Des Moines Partnership is taking the lead, and hopefully other DSM institutions will follow their example and help these businesses grow.
Why do you think this programming will benefit other small business owners?
Lilly: This programming is beneficial because you learn more about your business. Taking this class has opened my eyes to dig deeper and ask more serious questions about why I do what I do.
Isabel: It helps businesses meet their goals, so they get where they want to be.
Monica: I feel like as a small business owner, it’s not like you go to a class or college and study entrepreneurship as a career so you’re prepared. There hasn’t been anything else that I’ve seen that helps entrepreneurs. I think that for other small business owners that are in that growth stage, this is a commitment that they can make to work on their own businesses. It is a commitment — a time commitment, a resources commitment, a commitment to themselves — that’s definitely worth it.
For more information, contact Juan Pablo Sanchez, Director of Inclusive Business Strategies at The Partnership.
Scale DSM is a minority business accelerator for diverse entrepreneurs in various industries, including food service, media and more. The Greater Des Moines Partnership program is sponsored by Wells Fargo and powered by Interise®.
Looking for tools to help grow your startup or small business? Visit the Small Business Resources Hub to find the information you need or sign up for Mentor Connection to build relationships with a trusted group of mentors.
Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.
Juan Pablo Sanchez
Juan Pablo Sanchez is the Director of Inclusive Business Strategies at the Greater Des Moines Partnership.