Article by Dayton Business Journal
Last year, a group of entrepreneurs banded together to identify solutions for a complex problem: underrepresentation.
More than 99% of Ohio companies, about 950,000 of them, are small businesses. Together, they account for nearly half of the state’s workforce and create tens of thousands of new jobs each year — but the economic development groups that support them capture only a fraction of the playing field.
That’s what sparked the creation of Dayton Business Center. The digital ecosystem platform, developed jointly by LunarX Agency and QmeLocal, is designed to connect small business owners with local resource providers to empower multicultural business growth across Miami Valley.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to really make a difference in the community and create a one-stop shop to support the region,” Nate Dillard, founder of LunarX, told me. “There’s a lot of potential here to drive workforce development and business development programs through one digital platform and resource.”
Dillard has pursued similar ventures before. Several years ago, he launched the National Black Business Directory — a business development platform designed to provide resource listings, services and financial literacy information for Black-owned businesses.
Dayton Business Center takes that model a step further, providing an interactive social network for business owners to connect with resource providers, post jobs, source leads and interact with customers and peers.
It’s a bit like LinkedIn, but with a greater focus on partnership- and relationship-building, said Bentley Charlemagne, founder of QmeLocal. With a localized audience, Dayton Business Center can be fine-tuned to meet specific community needs and provide tailored services for business owners who participate.
As a result, Dayton Business Center can more easily partner with resource providers throughout the region — and those providers can leverage the network to identify new suppliers, build relationships and provide value-add services to bolster Dayton’s business community.
“It’s not just a digital interface — it’s also a human connectivity interface,” Charlemagne told me. “That is the differentiator. It is not a single site-facing technology like your traditional social platform … It’s designed to really serve the activities that local communities engage.”
The platform also plans to offer high-level analytics to provide municipal leaders a range of data, including small-business representation by volume, employee count, industry and revenue, as well as the proportion of small business led by women, minorities and disabled veterans.
Currently, Dayton Business Center is in beta testing. The platform is live, and business owners who wish to participate can sign up for an account, though the ecosystem isn’t fully populated yet.
Prior to commercial launch in early 2021, Dayton Business Center will open for an inaugural cohort of as many as 1,200 member businesses from the Greater Dayton Minority Business Assistance Center (MBAC). Dillard approached Senay Semere, regional director of the MBAC, earlier this year to formalize the partnership.
Concepts similar to the Dayton Business Center have been pitched to MBAC before, Semere said — but this is the first one he jumped on.
“This whole partnership allows businesses to interact with one another and have access that previously was held behind a curtain,” Semere told me. “At the same time, it gives a service provider like myself access to new clients so that I can give them the information they need to access capital, resources (and) all sorts of avenues that are provided by the state of Ohio.”
Right now, the founders of Dayton Business Center are working to formalize relationships with a wide cross-section of resource providers and university partners. Dillard is leveraging his leadership roles at local entrepreneurial organizations, like Startup Grind Dayton and Dayton Driven, to get those conversations started.
“We’ve been talking to Wright State as well, and several other players in the region,” Dillard said. “We will be announcing some further partnerships in the next few months.”
After launch, Dayton Business Center’s founders plan to use those partnerships to roll out new features, like workforce-focused online courses and programs for business plan development. The full platform will be accessible on iOS, Android and web browsers.
“The Dayton business community needs this, because everyone’s success is rooted in each other,” Semere said. “The only way that we can push our communities forward is by interlocking them more.”