By Kevin Manne
Buffalo-area entrepreneurs learn during the Small Business Summer School at the Innovation Center. Photo: Nate Benson
Shelden Gibbs, 8th grader and founder and CEO of Classic Knot, shows off one of his handcrafted bowties. Photo: Douglas Levere
Chamus Hawk, founder and CEO of Team Radio, performs at Buffalo Riverworks. Photo: Brett Ballachino.
A hip-hop artist, a former professional golfer and a middle schooler walk into a business incubator…
It’s no joke—it’s the Ignite Buffalo Small Business Summer School. And it brought together Western New York business owners to build their companies and plan for the future.
On eight mornings over the summer, more than 60 entrepreneurs gathered at the Innovation Center in the heart of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. There, they learned to create business plans, execute on opportunities and master their pitch—all while networking with like-minded business owners.
Among them were Chamus Hawk, hip-hop artist turned founder and CEO of Team Radio; Cindy Miller, former LPGA tour professional golfer turned founder and CEO of Cindy Miller Inc.; and Shelden Gibbs, eighth grader and founder and CEO of Classic Knot.
Shelden Gibbs loves bow ties. He loves them so much that when he went shopping, he got frustrated at the limited selection and started cutting up shirts to make his own.
When he wore these self-made ties out of the house, he would get so many compliments that he knew he was on to something.
So, three years ago—at just 10 years old—Gibbs founded Classic Knot, his company that sells handcrafted bow ties, neck ties and other accessories for men, women and kids.
“A bow tie is like a piece of art,” he says. “It adds character.”
Now 13, Gibbs is a student at Sweet Home Middle School by day. At night, he’s fulfilling orders, working on his website and building his brand on social media.
Most middle schoolers wouldn’t want homework over summer vacation, but he saw the opportunity to advance his entrepreneurial skills at the free Ignite Buffalo Small Business Summer School and signed up.
“I learned a lot,” Gibbs says. “We worked on business plans and strengthening our pitch, and I really liked the interaction with the instructors.”
Chamus Hawk is passionate about music, film and Buffalo. Under his stage name Chae Hawk, he created progressive rap cinema—a fusion of hip-hop and Hollywood-style video production. He recorded with musicians who went from Buffalo to the big time, from bands like Snapcase and Every Time I Die.
Today he’s using that creativity to elevate the next generation of Buffalo artists. Through his entertainment agency Team Radio, Hawk is developing local talent and helping them navigate the difficult process of working with record labels.
But as Hawk discovered, building a business is a difficult process, too. That’s what brought him to Ignite Buffalo Small Business Summer School.
“I’ve been revising my business plan for about the past six years,” he says. “The Small Business Summer School was a wonderful experience—I was able to network with other professionals in a unique environment and now I’m finally prepared and confident to execute my business plan.”
After competing on the LPGA tour from 1979 to 1981, Silver Creek native Cindy Miller moved back to Western New York with her husband to teach golf. They began at a public driving range and have been self-employed ever since.
Today, Miller educates both on and off the golf course through her business, Cindy Miller Inc. In addition to golf lessons, she teaches individuals, entrepreneurs and corporations how to unlock their potential for improved performance.
Ready to take her business to the next level, Miller enrolled in the Ignite Buffalo Small Business Summer School, where she gained the skills to do just that.
“I learned the value of having a plan, being able to clearly communicate and understand your mission, vision and goals, and how to implement that plan moving forward,” she says.
Ignite Buffalo Small Business Summer School was hosted in partnership with the School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL), 43North and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The program saw a wide array of entrepreneurs beyond those featured here, from a chocolate manufacturer to a medical device startup to an indoor vertical hydroponic farm.
The program is just one of the initiatives in the School of Management’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Students can join the Entrepreneurship Lab (eLab) course and the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition, as well as UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars, and collaborations across the Buffalo Niagara region. In addition, area entrepreneurs hone their skills through a variety of programs offered by the CEL.
To learn more about entrepreneurship opportunities in the School of Management, visit mgt.buffalo.edu/entrepreneurship.