The program pairs entrepreneurs with mentors to set them up for success
As part of its Good Enterprises initiative, Lowcountry Local First teaches entrepreneurs business fundamentals through its Community Business Academy.
Jocelyn Patterson’s appreciation for shoes began when she was a young girl, admiring the wardrobe of her mother, who worked as a flight attendant in New York. “My mom had beautiful shoes, and I knew she was wearing them to go to places I’d only seen on TV,” recalls Patterson, who was raised by her grandmother in Georgetown until she was 14. “Shoes were a way to connect to my mom, and I had more shoes than clothes in my closet.”
Patterson went on to study shoe design in Milan and later returned to the Lowcountry to launch her business. Gola Sweetgrass marries Patterson’s love of footwear with Gullah-Geechee culture by featuring a sweetgrass design element (sewn by basket maker Roslyn Cromedy) at the toe of a leather sandal. Patterson was confident she had a good idea but wanted to learn more about how to start her business, so she applied for nonprofit Lowcountry Local First’s Good Enterprises Community Business Academy.
Jocelyn Patterson was paired with Brackish co-founder Jeff Plotner (right) to help build her shoe business, Gola Sweetgrass.
There, Patterson was matched with mentor Jeff Plotner, co-founder of Brackish, the company that has placed feather bow ties on celebrities far and wide. “He put me in touch with a production manager in Guatemala, and that was where I was really able to get started,” says Patterson. “Without having his mentorship and coaching, I’m not sure how much progress I would have made.”
The business academy helps aspiring entrepreneurs realize their dreams, fostering economic development for minority-owned businesses. Students are accepted based on whether their business idea is viable. The 12-week academy offers lessons on the fundamentals of operating a business, from creating a business plan to managing cash flow. After the session, attendees can take advantage of year-long business acceleration services, including access to workshops and coaches.
“We’re all about your business being a legacy for yourself and your family and community.” —Raquel Padgett, Good Enterprises director
Since its launch, the academy has had 97 students graduate and aims to enroll 20 to 25 students in each of its six annual sessions, four in English and two in Spanish. Seventy percent of the students have identified as female and 86 percent as a racial minority.
The academy emphasizes the importance of making a profit. “It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, it doesn’t matter if you have an existing business, or how well you think you can promote your business,” says Good Enterprises director Raquel Padgett, who has been involved in the effort since its inception in May 2019. “None of that matters if you’re not making money to support your business and to support yourself. We’re all about your business being a legacy for yourself and your family and community.”
Success stories include Daddy’s Girl Bakery, which opened in a space leased by Lowcountry Local First on Reynolds Avenue, and Carolima’s Lowcountry Cuisine. And Padgett says Patterson’s business is poised to “grow into something major.” Plotner agrees that Gola is primed to do well. “Jocelyn is the person who has the drive, the idea, the background, the experience, and the training to succeed,” her mentor says.
Gola Sweetgrass’s ”Myrna” sandal is named for Patterson’s grandmother.
Early this year, the academy is introducing a Credit to Capital program to help entrepreneurs strengthen their credit ratings and pair them with potential lenders.
Patterson has launched an e-commerce site, golasweetgrass.com, and is working to place her first shoe in museum gift shops along the Gullah-Geechee corridor. She plans to debut a second style in spring 2023. In a full-circle moment, she was hired as program coordinator at the academy. “The Good Enterprise Community Business Academy has helped me,” says Patterson, “so what better way to express how grateful I am than by helping others?”