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The Entrepreneurial Spirit Grows in Maywood

Published February 2020.

Deniene Willis (center), the driving force behind the Community Leadership Academy, which is a program of the Proviso Partners for Health, presents a certificate to Dana Boyd Harris, winner of the Academy’s Business Track “Pitch Session.” Five Business Track participants pitched their concepts for new businesses to three judges: Dan Perkins (left), Kara Holder (second from left), and Sarah Lira (right).

On January 23, 2020, a small group of aspiring entrepreneurs gathered at the Cielito Lindo Cafe, located at 612 West Lake Street, in Maywood, to pitch their business ideas to a team of judges.  Two of the judges, Dan Perkins and Sarah Lira, are members of the Maywood Chamber of Commerce.  Dan Perkins is a supplier diversity consultant and a cultural historian; and Sarah Lira is director of Housing Helpers, Inc., a non-profit housing rehabilitation and advocacy organization, based in Maywood.  Like Perkins and Lira, the third judge, Kara Holder,  is a long-time resident of Maywood.  Ms. Holder is an seasoned business professional with extensive experience in marketing and technology.

The “Pitch Session” was organized by Deniene Willis, leader of the Community Leadership Academy, a program offered by Proviso Partners for Health (PP4H).  PP4H has been quite active in Maywood, in recent years, seeking to engage community residents in finding solutions that improve the overall well-being of residents and the community.  The Community Leadership Academy focuses on leadership, collaboration, and economic development as ways to empower residents to engage in sustainable community transformation.

The January “Pitch Session” was the culmination of weeks of preparation by five participants of The Academy’s Business Track program.  Each participant “pitched” their new business concept in eight minutes or less, while the judges scored each presentation on multiple variables, including originality and clarity.  The concepts varied considerably, from a business offering skin care treatments, to urban farm specializing in mushrooms, to a program that empowers victims of domestic abuse.  One would-be entrepreneur was excited to share his concept for an advisory service catering to seniors.  After all the presentations were completed, the judges selected as their top choice a concept for a business that intended to use art to promote physical and emotional healing.  The concept, like many of those presented over the course of the evening, grew out of a personal experience.  At the outset of her winning presentation, Dana Boyd Harris stated that art had saved her life; and she is convinced art can benefit others.

Certificates were awarded to all the presenters, and the top three winners received cash gift cards.  After the certificate ceremony, the judges talked with program participants about their business concepts and presentations.  The informal exchange transitioned into dinner conversation when a delicious meal was served by the proprietors of Cielito Lindo Cafe, one of Maywood’s newest and hottest restaurants.

Maywood Chamber of Commerce members are actively supporting programs that aim to strengthen Maywood’s entrepreneurial base.  Many of these programs are spearheaded by individuals with strong commitments to both commerce and the community.  For Deniene Willis, her work with the Business Track Program is an opportunity to both lead and learn.  Willis is founder of Tastycup Productions, a nonprofit that uses the performing arts as a catalyst to develop leadership skills, principles, and values among residents and youth. 

Story written by Dan Perkins, MCC Webmaster.

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