You know when you sign up for something and aren’t sure what you’re getting yourself into? That’s what I did when I applied to participate in the 2017 LA Small Business Academy at USC.

In it’s fifth year, the Academy is sponsored by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), Los Angeles World Airport (LAWA), Port of Los Angeles (POLA), the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). It’s held over 9 weeks at USC to provide relevant information and opportunities to attendees to participate in future Professional Services contracting opportunities in the greater Los Angeles area.

As a native I’m embarrassed to say that I had no idea what our city had to offer small businesses or the mandates from our mayor to promote small businesses and provide opportunities to thrive. I have co-owned a marketing and advertising agency for 3 years now having spent the last 30 working for people. I never desired nor even thought of owning my own business. Both my dad and my grandfather were small business owners in Los Angeles.

A business is considered an SBE if it has 100 or fewer employees; and an average annual gross receipts of $15 million or less, over the last three tax years.

My partner and I look forward to getting bumped into the “not a small business anymore” category.

I learned the first evening that out of 185 applicants, 40 of us business owners were selected. Every Thursday for 9 weeks we drove to USC to attend class in the Leavey Library where we were given USC boxed dinners and the opportunity to connect with classmates, the Supply Chain leaders at the LADWP, the Department of Public Works, Los Angeles World Airports and the Port of Los Angeles. They brought speakers with experience being on the inside of government contracting, like procurement officers, city officials and SBE’s who had attended the Academy in prior years and were now successfully navigating the waters of contracting with our city.

Having lived behind the scenes in Post Production my entire career, owning Wicked Bionic has forced me to be out front in order to develop the necessary relationships to be successful. I’ve learned a lot these lasts months in class, made many new friends, was educated on how to manage contracts – both getting and keeping them – and refined our business approach and how we talk about what we have to offer.

But I must say, more than all of this practical and pragmatic experience, I was inspired every week.

Gwen Williams (LADWP), John Reamer, Jr. (Dept. of Public Works), Erin Henning (LAWA) and their right hands Karyn, Helen, Hannah, Belu, Claudia, Angela, Michelle and Charlene encouraged us, pushed us beyond our comfort zones, and told us not to quit no matter the dark days that come because we all have them. The best feeling in the world is to know you’re not alone – that’s incredibly helpful when you own your own business. Every day is different and it requires resilience, fortitude, patience and a sense of adventure.

I wanted to write about my experience, as there wasn’t much out there about the LA Small Business Academy when I was searching the web earlier this year. I’m here to offer help to the 2018 students looking for encouragement. Like everything else, it is what you make of it. I challenged myself during this experience and learned that the City of Los Angeles via this Academy is there to support, provide tools and give a hand to those of us in business and let us know that we can do great work, be of service and be wildly successful. I now feel a bigger part of my city and will be forever grateful for all it has to offer.