Sara Clayborne congratulates spring 2018 graduates of CIC. Credit: Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress

Twenty-eight local entrepreneurs graduated from the Community Investment Collaborative Entrepreneur Workshop on Tuesday, adding to the more than 300 workshop graduates in the past six years.

The class completed a 16-week course to learn how to create or further develop their small businesses.

“CIC’s mission is helping under-resourced entrepreneurs grow small businesses,” CIC President Stephen Davis said. “That includes the individual creating self-employment, all the way to the small business that might have 15 employees.”

CIC reports that it has helped launch 74 businesses and expand 90 others since 2012, and it is working with 43 more that still are under development. The organization estimates that every dollar invested in CIC generates $4.84 in wages from new jobs.

CIC also gives microloans of up to $35,000, and has distributed about $400,000 in loans to the local community.

Sara Clayborne, the keynote speaker of the graduation ceremony, is a 2013 graduate of the workshop and co-founder of Charlottesville Ballet.

Clayborne, the first CIC alumna to return as the keynote speaker, told the new graduates to “celebrate, encourage and give back.”

Although it took five years for her ballet school to become profitable, Clayborne said its staff and class offerings have grown exponentially. The school also has awarded scholarships for free classes to local children.

“CIC is a community of people who loved and supported me through the most challenging part of my business,” Clayborne said. “None of this would have been possible without CIC.”

Clayborne is one of CIC’s many volunteers helping to mentor entrepreneurs in the community.

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Workshop graduate Antwon Brinson recently launched Culinary Concepts AB, a culinary training and mentor program that graduated six students this past spring. All of the students were hired by restaurants in Charlottesville.

Brinson said he began the workshop without a plan for how to turn his vision into a profitable business.

“I think when I went into CIC, they thought I was crazy,” Brinson said, laughing. “But as you go through the process, you start develop and understand what your vision is, and it evolves because of the program. Halfway through the program, I started to figure out what I was going to do and how I was going to do it.”

After having trouble hiring cooks as the executive chef at Common House, Brinson saw an opportunity to train future employees for local restaurants.

“No one has invested in anybody, and these cooks are just jumping around,” he said. “There is opportunity in the market in Charlottesville to take someone from nothing to something.”

In a similar way, this is what CIC did for Brinson and his vision.

“I went into the program with this naïve perspective that I knew how to open a business. But I didn’t realize what I didn’t know,” Brinson said. “They teach you. They walk you through it.”

Brinson said his first class was a great success. Registration for his second class is already full, and he is currently looking to fill his third class. He said his business plan is now viable and has plans for Culinary Concepts AB’s expansion.

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Once entrepreneurs complete the CIC workshop, they enter a network of mentors in the Charlottesville community and small business circles that act as monthly support groups.

In addition to the education and mentoring CIC provides, Brinson said an important part of his experience came through the community of entrepreneurs CIC created.

“You have these entrepreneurial minds around you, and you’re just bouncing ideas off each other,” Brinson said. “You have a positive circle of people around you that’s just motivating you and encouraging you. It just pushes you to be the ‘best you’ because of the people you’re surrounding yourself with.”

Nicole Benedikt, 2015 graduate and owner of Glo-Out Glamour Bar, completed the workshop after she had launched her small business.

“Because I had been in business already at that point for two years, I felt that a lot of the stuff I had already done,” Benedikt said. “The end part of the class was great for me because it brought to light a lot of things I didn’t think about, and also brought a lot of connections.”

Benedikt said CIC helped her apply for loans when she wanted to expand her business.

“What they’re doing is great,” Benedikt said. “I’m glad they’re doing it for the community because a lot of people are benefiting from it, and it’s awesome.”

Benedikt said her busy work schedule prohibits her from being more involved in the CIC community. But she envisions increasing her presence as her staff grows.

CIC is currently accepting applications for their fall workshop. The deadline is Friday.