Success Story
June 11, 2024

EDA Opens the Door to Success for Alabama Entrepreneurs

“There will come a day in your life when you must act for others-your family, perhaps your community-and you must be ready.”

Vivian Malone Jones

It is in that same spirit of preparedness that Vivian’s Door provides business training to the community, maintaining an open-door policy with its students - small business owners and entrepreneurs. It’s more than just helping them grow their businesses, but rather serving the whole community.

Photo of Janice Malone, Founder, CEO and Executive Director of Vivian's Door
Janice Malone, Founder, CEO and Executive Director of Vivian's Door.

Vivian’s Door is an economic development organization based in Mobile, Alabama, which helps local, minority-owned businesses grow and thrive. It embodies the passion of the late civil rights activist Vivian Malone Jones, for whom this non-profit was named. In 1963, with state troopers at her side, Jones walked past a defiant Alabama governor and straight through the front door of the University of Alabama’s School of Commerce and Business Administration, setting the tone for generations to come.

“We really believe in building a relationship with our students and never treating it like just a transaction,” said JaVaughnae Malone, Marketing Director. “After they’ve completed their courses, we encourage our students to maintain a dialogue with us so that we can continue to help their businesses grow.”

In 2023, Vivian’s Door decided to create a comprehensive training curriculum that would provide students with all of the tools necessary to pursue their goals and to grow strong businesses. That year, they officially launched Lift: Together We Rise, a program that senior leaders refer to as the embodiment of all training.

Through this program, made possible through a $730,000 award from the Economic Development Administration’s Economic Adjustment Assistance program, participants work with a Vivian’s Door mentor to create their own business plan. They also partake in a seven-month Streetwise MBA course, which provides them with management, financial, and network training needed to grow and expand their businesses. The course is designed to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses out today while looking to the future, enabling them to further economic development and job creation within their community.

The Lift program has proven to be a success. More than 30 students have already completed the Streetwise MBA program with another 40 enrolled for the spring semester. Additionally, twenty students have completed their business plan training with just as many enrolled in the next session. Recruitment has never been an issue.

“They find a way to our door,” said Janice Malone, Executive Director and subject of a recent New York Times profile piece. “We are here for those students who will stick it out and want what we have to offer. We never give them the opportunity to say they can’t get it done.”

The EDA funding also provided for the purchase of a mobile unit, allowing Vivian’s Door to reach other local businesses, including farmers and rural entrepreneurs, allowing them to take their training on the road. Staff members recently visited an area high school, where more than 130 students got hands-on training in business development. They have also conducted similar training sessions at off-site business locations, conferences, festivals, and sporting events.

Photo of Dexter Sutton, owner and fitness coach at Dexter’s Fitness Center
Dexter Sutton, owner and fitness coach at Dexter’s Fitness Center, which offers personal training, fitness classes and more.

The award also supported an open house in April 2024. Several alumni shared their experiences and expertise with area legislators, business leaders, bankers, accountants, and small business owners in the program.

Business owners like Sofia Cross, who owns and operates Fade Factory, a Mobile-area barber academy. Prior to her coursework with Vivian’s Door, the business earned less than $300,000 per year. Within one year of completing the StreetWise MBA program, Cross increased her revenues by 46 percent. She doubled her staff and expanded to multiple locations, securing three large area contracts.

“Now I know how to get contracts, how to bid, how to contact people,” said Cross. “Going into battle with an arsenal of information and connections that I gained through the program is better than going into battle by myself.”

The program also allowed Dexter’s Fitness Center, owned by personal trainer Dexter Sutton, to remain open following the economic hardship and the mass closings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also a huge benefit to Charlena Carswell, helping her to open a second location of her Early Learning Academy, a child development and daycare center.

“Any business owner who puts in time will come away learning a lot of new skills and also becoming able to share information about the health of their business,” said Carswell, in regards to the Lift program. “It will help your business to grow and not be stagnant.”

EDA is proud to have played a role in their success, further demonstrating our commitment to economic development in historically underserved communities.

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  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Small Business Development/RLF