CEL graduates 24 emerging minority and women entrepreneurs

Release Date: June 29, 2020


BUFFALO, N.Y. — Cassandra Ott, owner of Cassandra Ott Art & Design, has been named Protégé of the Year by the Allstate Minority and Women Emerging Entrepreneurs (MWEE) program, a joint venture by the University at Buffalo School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) and the UB Center for Urban Studies.

Ott earned a $1,500 prize for the honor. Teshiko Payton, owner of Payton’s Place Learning Daycare, was awarded second place and a $1,000 prize. Nicole Davis and Jittaun Hutchinson, owners of Franci Jewelry, took third place and a $500 prize.

The awards were announced on June 11 in a virtual graduation ceremony held jointly with the CEL’s Core program.

Sponsored by The Allstate Foundation, the MWEE program helps minority and women entrepreneurs take their companies to the next stage of development with business development seminars twice a month, networking events and one-on-one mentoring.

After entering as protégés last year, 24 participants graduated, bringing the total number of local entrepreneurs who have completed the MWEE program to 348 since it launched in 2004.

The graduates were:

  • Fatih Aksel, Creative Kidz
  • Deidre Batson-Grigs, KIPER Moving and Transportation LLC
  • Nicole Davis, Franci Jewelry
  • Diana Donnarumma, Chronically Fit
  • Mary Gannon, STRONGER AS ONE
  • Shelden Gibbs, Classic Knot
  • Melissa Golpl, Self Direction Planning Service Associates Inc.
  • Hannah Gordon, City of Light Publishing
  • Sally Gower, Eat Well Buffalo
  • Yanava Hawkins, Girl Gang Entertainment LLC
  • Jittaun Hutchinson, Franci Jewelry
  • Deanna Kroll-Haeick, DeaLea Photography
  • Iesha Moody, Mini Fashion
  • Courtney Nelson-Benton, Elle James Interior Design and Home Décor
  • Crystal Newman, Bloomsbury Lane Toy Shoppe
  • Michael O’Keefe, Michael O’Keefe
  • Cassandra Ott, Cassandra Ott Art & Design
  • Kimberly Pachetti, Naniwan Luxe
  • Teshiko Payton, Payton’s Place Learning Daycare
  • Simone Ragland, Families Aimed Toward Excellence (FATE)
  • Caitlin Reilley, Reilley Photography
  • Lauren Schulte, Monarch Kitchen Design Studio
  • Joanne Smith, JLP Skincare
  • Rhonda Woods, Classic Knot

Each participant was assigned a mentor from the local business community to help devise realistic business goals and develop timetables and strategies for achieving them. Mentors met regularly with participants, providing advice in strategic and tactical thinking, marketing, long-range financial planning and more.

The CEL is accepting applications for the 2021 MWEE program. To be eligible, an entrepreneur must be a woman or member of a recognized minority group and own a business in the Buffalo Niagara region. To learn more about the curriculum or apply, contact the CEL office at 716-885-5715 or mgt-cel@buffalo.edu.

The Allstate Foundation, a charitable organization funded by subsidiaries of Allstate Insurance Corp., provides philanthropic grants to nonprofit organizations. With a focus on teen safe driving and building financial independence for domestic violence survivors, The Allstate Foundation also promotes safe and vital communities; tolerance, inclusion and diversity; and economic empowerment. For more information, visit allstatefoundation.org.

Established in 1987, the CEL provides participants with individualized and interactive education in entrepreneurship. More than 1,400 CEL alumni employ more than 23,000 Western New Yorkers, and their businesses are worth more than $2.3 billion to the local economy. For more information, visit mgt.buffalo.edu/cel.

The UB School of Management is recognized for its emphasis on real-world learning, community and economic impact, and the global perspective of its faculty, students and alumni. The school also has been ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes and U.S. News & World Report for the quality of its programs and the return on investment it provides its graduates. For more information about the UB School of Management, visit mgt.buffalo.edu.

Media Contact Information

Jacqueline Molik Ghosen
Assistant Dean and Director of Communications
School of Management