A Holistic Initiative that Goes Beyond Financial Assistance

Mentoring is a key component of Elevate Together and a way for businesses to succeed. In this interview, Maria Gutierrez, a Venture Mentoring Team member who mentors Elevate Together small business grant recipients, tells us more about how Elevate Together™ provides Black and Hispanic small business owners the necessary tools to achieve their goals.

https://youtu.be/d3WenJcUoWA

Tammy (Interviewer): Hi. Welcome to Elevate Together. Today we have Maria Gutierrez, a mentor from the Venture Mentoring Team who will speak a little bit more about the Elevate Together mentoring program. Welcome, Maria. How are you today?

Maria: I am very good, thank you, Tammy. How are you?

Tammy: I’m very, very good. And you are one of the Venture Mentor Team members. Can you tell me a briefly about yourself and the role that you play [at] Elevate Together?

Maria: Yes, as you said, I am Maria Gutierrez. I currently work for Office Depot and so we spearheaded the whole Elevate Together movement and as part of that, we connected with the Venture Mentoring Team to help us provide mentoring to business owners that come through the program. It really piqued my interest as I co -lead our Latino ARG group at Office Depot. We not only try to drive business and develop our professionals, but we also go out there and see ways that we can help the Latino community, so this was a perfect opportunity for me to get involved. I found out a little bit more details about what it took and at first, I kind of questioned, you know, “Do I have the skill set? But I just said yeah, I am going to take the risk”, gave it a try and went through the training and it has been a wonderful experience to go through this. My focus is on coaching and mentoring Latino-owned or women-owned businesses—small businesses— and you get so much more than what you give. I mean, obviously, you don’t do this alone, it’s a team of mentors and we’re able to provide coaching to these businesses in many areas [such as] sales, forecasting, accounting, marketing, and by sitting in these teams you also get to learn a whole lot about businesses in areas that you are not involved in. So that’s my role, I am currently a mentor. I am currently mentoring about five or six businesses, not only in Florida, but outside of Florida as well.

Tammy: That’s amazing! And, why is mentoring an important component of Elevate Together? Can you expand a little bit more on that?

Maria: It is an important component because it goes beyond the financial help and I truly believe in mentoring as a way for businesses to succeed. So we give them the cash grant, but we also put them through the training to give them the tools that they need to succeed, and you’d be surprised how many people don’t take mentoring —and not intentionally, but they don’t see it as an important part of a business and it is. It’s as important as the execution to really stop and think through, “What is my business going to look like next year?” “The following year?”, “What am I forecasting?”, “What are my risks?” You know, prices are increasing - “Do I need to look for different vendors?” Marketing— “Am I doing okay with so many digital platforms?”, “Do I need to look beyond what I am doing now?”, so many things that business owners may not consider because they are in the day-to-day trying to make money—and not to their fault, but that’s when we come in. We come in to help them and support them in this with the training so that they can see, or have a holistic view of, all the areas that encompass having a business. So that they can also take care of these areas and think through these questions.

Tammy: And I think it is very important because, like you mention, you give out the grants, but often times, especially small business owners that (sic) are starting their business, their start-ups, they don’t necessarily know… they have an idea of what it is that they are going to do with the money, with the grants, but they may not have, like you mentioned, all of the skills set and all of the information that they need to make best use of that money. I think that is a key component of being successful in a business and I think that is one of the benefits of Elevate Together— being able to provide those skill sets, those trainings, that one-on-one mentoring to those business owners. And on that same line, how do Black and Hispanic-owned small businesses benefit from mentoring offered by the Venture Mentoring Team, besides what you just mentioned on the marketing, the “What to do with grants and funds?”

Maria: So, I see it as—first, we are a free of service. Two, I want to think of it as a curated group of professionals that have no other interest than to benefit the business owner, [we are] totally working as a volunteer. We are not allowed to invest in these companies, so we actually sign an agreement that this is what we are engaged to do. So, we are here for the benefit of the business owner. You also have—when I say curated it’s because you have professionals in the different areas—many of them have businesses, have sold businesses, or are currently working in their own business, have worked at a corporate world and then have moved on to having their own businesses, so there is such a wealth of experience out there. They’ve gone through the ‘trials and tribulations’ of owning a business and so, you have access to these resource of professionals—it’s great for the business owners. They get to have a mentoring team, not just a mentor, so right there, that’s another benefit, you know, they get diverse opinions from different angles. And something else, the connections that they are building and the ability to network with these professionals. In my case, I am mentoring a lady right now that’s (sic) potentially looking to get into retail, so I work at Office Depot who (sic) is a big retailer, so I am able to connect her with some of our internal professionals in merchandising that (sic) can guide her through the steps that a vendor will need to do to present a product to a retailer; to know what it is they look for; to learn a little bit more about forecasting. So, even if we don’t have the tools or the expertise within the team, we have a broader network that we make available to these business owners and it’s all free of cost, which is important for someone that’s (sic) starting a business.

Tammy: That’s amazing, and you speak about all of these benefits. But, why did you become a mentor? What benefit does it bring to you, as a mentor working with these small businesses?

Maria: So, I get a lot out of it! I believe in reinventing yourself and learning every step of the way and I have learned so much since I’ve joined VMT. I’ve learned about other areas of a business that I didn’t really know. Depending on the industry, that you mentor, you can learn about that industry as well. So, it’s just continuous learning for me. Even within accounting and finance, I work with individuals that have been in the industry for much longer, so I get to expand my skills—and I love it. I also get to utilize some of the skills that I don’t necessarily use and some of the knowledge that I don’t necessary use every day at work, so that’s also another benefit that I get out of it. And then there’s the ability to help. For me, women owned-businesses, Latina-owned businesses are important. I think [that] there’s a lot of potential, but a lot of these businesses do not know that there are resources out there available to them and so, it’s almost like, you know, I want them to know that this is available to them and that we can help them fulfill those goals, and so that’s the reward that I get out of it, besides the help.

Tammy: I think that the reward—being able to see them grow, to see them achieve their goals and be part of that journey, like you mentioned earlier, it’s rewarding for a person who is mentoring. And again, giving that education—say “Wow!”. Not to boast or anything like that but it’s really rewarding when you get to help others and to see them succeed. So, thank you so much, Maria. Is there anything else you would like to add about the mentoring program with Elevate Together?

Maria: Yes, Tammy! Going back to the last point that we were discussing, it’s so important to, again, not only give them the money, but give them the tools and the training that they need so it becomes a sustainable environment where you don’t have to keep supporting them financially, but the goal is that they will become successful and then they will pay back and help out other businesses. That’s how you elevate your community. On the last note, I encourage everyone to give it a try. If you have the time, try to get involved and become a mentor and if you are in a position where you can make the decision to join this program, I encourage you to give it a thought and contact us and let us know how we can partner together.

Tammy: Well, thank you, Maria so much for being here and interviewing and letting us know a little bit more about your role and Elevate Together. They [Elevate Together] also has a university section where they provide various trainings and workshops in both English and Spanish.


How Elevate Together™ Helped a Small Business to Reopen After Devastating Disaster

Ruchama Jean Baptiste, a nurse practitioner, launched Lavie Scrubs in February 2020 to help medical professionals look and feel great with affordable and comfortable medical uniforms and accessories. In 2021, Ruchama was selected by the Urban League of Palm Beach County to receive a $10,000 small business cash grant from Elevate Together™ powered by Round It Up America®. This cash grant allowed her to purchase more inventory and hire a part-time assistant to help contact potential clients.

https://youtu.be/rvlah4sFlxE

During the grant presentation, Office Depot Associates learned that Ruchama’s inventory and office space for Lavie Scrubs were destroyed in a warehouse fire, which forced her to operate temporarily from a mobile unit.

“We launched our business in 2020, right before the pandemic happened. After that, we were in a warehouse and we had a fire in our building, which caused us to lose a lot of our inventory and we had to start over,” Ruchama said.

Once Ruchama was able to secure a new storefront several months later in Delray Beach, Office Depot wanted to help make her new office a comfortable and productive work environment with an in-kind donation of brand-new stylish furniture, office essentials and cleaning supplies.

“During that time, we were fortunate enough to have Elevate Together help us. They donated furniture, supplies, and we also won a grant that helped us kickstart our business, and here we are today,” Ruchama said.


Entrepreneurs Empowered to Elevate Their Businesses with $10,000 Grants

ODP Corporation CEO Gerry Smith surprises small business owners with the news that they have been selected to receive Elevate Together’s first cash grants.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q96otg9qBHk&t=1s