A caterer running a family business selling tamales based on her grandmother’s recipe. A 33-year-old family-operated restaurant in the fishing village of Lafitte, La. A start-up waffle stand specializing in Belgian and Hong Kong styles, run by two sisters still trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina. And a woman-owned praline company and restaurant with 41 years in business.
These are just a few of the 11 small businesses that graduated today from the Catapult Fund, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s business accelerator for entrepreneurs in the culinary arts.
The Catapult Fund was launched in 2014 by the Jazz & Heritage Foundation – the nonprofit that owns Jazz Fest – and four partners: Capital One bank, the Louisiana Small Business Development Center, the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation and the Ashé Cultural Arts Center.
The goal is to provide both training and financial support to small business operating in culturally relevant fields. Since 2016, the program has focused on the culinary arts. See a video about the 2016 program here.
Those accepted into the Catapult Fund receive intensive training in business fundamentals modeled on Capital One’s successful “Getting Down to Business” boot camp for entrepreneurs. In addition to 17 weekly classes, they learn how to write a business plan, get ServSafe certification in food safety and learn to present their businesses in a pitch-style event.
Those who successfully completed all components of the program received a cash grant from a pool totaling $50,000.
“The Catapult Fund changed everything for us,” said one of the graduates, Rebecca Hollingsworth, who runs the Bonafried Food Truck with her husband, Stephen Maher. “I feel like I’m in charge of my business now, instead of it being in charge of me.”
Grant awards were determined based on five criteria: attendance (20 percent); being on time (5 percent); the quality of the business plan (35 percent); the quality of the pitch presentation (5 percent) and overall engagement with the course (35 percent).
“This is an engagement program, not a pitch competition,” said Carmen Sunda, Director of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center, which coordinates the instruction in the Catapult Fund classes.
Food-based businesses in Louisiana that had been in operation for at least one year and had less than $500,000 in gross annual revenues were eligible for the Catapult Fund. More than 60 business owners applied, of whom 25 were interviewed by a selection committee. The group was so impressive that room was made to accommodate 13 businesses in the 2018 edition of the program, up from 12 in previous classes.
The Catapult Fund Class of 2018 was seated on May 16, the starting date for the series of instructional sessions. Eleven of the 13 members of the Catapult Fund Class of 2018 graduated and received grants.
The largest grant given was $5,000, and the smallest was $3,080.
In addition, those who saved at least $500 in a business savings account during the course of the program got a matching grant of $1,000 if they had perfect attendance and up to $750 if they didn’t. All but three class members earned matching grants this year.
As a whole, the class saved a total of $13,472, and received matching grants of $7,200.
As part of the program, class members also received credit counseling. Members of the Catapult Fund Class of 2018 saw their average credit scores improve by 6 percent, and they successfully erased debts totaling $8,150.
The Catapult Fund helps to create jobs. Businesses in the Class of 2018 hired a total of nine full-time and 10 part-time employees during the run of the program.
The Catapult Fund hopes to distinguish itself from other entrepreneur assistance programs in New Orleans by combining rigorous training with access to funding, and by reaching deeper into the community to support to small business owners who might otherwise not have such an opportunity.
“We provide more than $1 million each year to nonprofits through our Community Partnership Grants,” said Don Marshall, Executive Director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. “We wanted to do something to support the entrepreneurs – the business people – whose role is so important to the cultural economy. A lot of them are really struggling with lack of training or access to capital. The Catapult Fund is part of our effort to support the culture by helping them succeed.”
The graduating members of the Catapult Fund Class of 2018 are:
Erin Brazley, Amaris Catering
Rebecca Hollingsworth and Stephen Maher, Bonafried Food Truck
Sinnidra Taylor and Aisha Taylor , Crazy Waffle Bar
Dwynesha Lavigne, Deelightful Cupcakes
Loretta Harrison, Loretta’s Authentic Pralines
Melody Lawson , NOLASFinest Personal Chef Service
Tiffany Lane, Off Da Hook Creole Creations
Wendy Smallwood, Ollie’s Hot Tamales
Blake Cressy, Tasty Treat Restaurant
Chris Hayes, The Smokin Oyster
David Volion, Voleo’s Seafood Restaurant
The Catapult Fund is a program of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that owns the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Presented by Shell. Additional support is provided by Capital One bank, the Louisiana Small Business Development Center, the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation and the Ashé Cultural Arts Center. The Jazz & Heritage Foundation uses the proceeds from Jazz Fest, and other raised funds, for year-round programs in education, economic development and cultural enrichment. For more on what we do, and to make a tax-deductible contribution, please see www.jazzandheritage.org.