By: Jake Sandlin
June 7, 2010
At 17, Sidney Moore says he isn't a teenager dreaming of becoming a professional athlete or an entertainer.
Instead, Moore is starting Sidney's Snacks, his own vending-machine business, with the anticipated help of a support network that includes the city of North Little Rock.
"I didn't have a get-rich-quick scheme," Moore said Thursday, when he was named the winner of a youth business-plan competition held in March. "I wanted to be an entrepreneur." Moore and two other teens, all students at Little Rock Central High School, are among the first youth entrepreneurs helping kick off the Central Arkansas Youth Entrepreneurship E-Center open to all Little Rock-area youth.
The E-Center will be housed in a vacant building at 3913 E. Broadway, pending the structure's donation from the owner - identified as HPS Partnership - to the city of North Little Rock. City Attorney Jason Carter said details of the gift are still being finalized.
Matthew and Maria Hampton, vice presidents of MH Marketing, are among those behind the E-Center concept, which attempts to help youths turn away from street crime and become successes through developing and nurturing their own businesses.
"The point of our vision is for young guys to develop a business and also develop a different mindset for their lives," Matthew Hampton said. "We now have got to wrap these young people in a body of support to let them become pioneers who will make others follow." About 35 business, city government and civic leaders attended an introductory session to the concept at the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce Thursday. The group was asked to support the youth businesses through buying their services or by contributing their expertise and time, if not money.
"We can't do this alone," Hampton told the group. "We need all of y'all." The city's involvement stems from the pending receipt of the donated building with an estimated 20,000 square feet in North Little Rock's Ward 2.
A "needs and action plan" passed among the attendees outlined a summer training program estimated to cost $15,000 and startup funding of $50,000. Construction costs haven't been determined, with anticipated in-kind and donated labor and equipment to renovate the building into offices and 15 cubicles where participating youths can set up their business areas. A timeline listed a January opening.
"It needs to be cleaned up and fixed up a bit," Ward 2 city Alderman Maurice Taylor said of the building.
Once the building is renovated, the city can lease it at a nominal cost, Carter said, to whatever nonprofit group takes the lead with the E-Center as long as a service is provided to the city's youths.
"The question is what role will the city play," said Taylor, who helped host Thursday's meeting. "I'm sure the city will play an integral role in it. We'll probably be a partner throughout the whole process." Hampton said MH Marketing wouldn't have to be the program's overseer or building owner. The plan calls for the creation of "a core group," he said, which would own the building and run its programs, but that has yet to be decided.
"If another organization is better suited to lead the effort, we're open to it," Hampton added.
The E-Center would offer professional assistance as "a place to go to get accounting support and legal support," Taylor added. "And, to help kids get off the street. These kids will even be able to employ other kids." The building would also include rooms for training and meetings with accountants, tax attorneys and others willing to donate their time as mentors to young entrepreneurs.
Two of the original businesses are to be Moore's Sidney's Snacks and a mobile detailing and power-washing business run by Justin McNeely and Fred Moore, both 17, that will go to sites to do the work.
"One thing, we are `mobile' detailing, so we need to be on the go," said McNeely in explaining to the group how they could help. "We have to have a vehicle." Moore said the E-Center would be like a home base for the teens' businesses to help them "get out on our own." "We get help with filing our taxes, setting up our business accounts," he said. "Basically it's to show us how to do stuff on our own." Sidney Moore's business plan also carries a unique aspect for a vending-machine business, one he said will specialize in "healthy" snacks, offering "less sugar and more sugar-free" items.
Sam Walls, chief executive officer for the Arkansas Capital Corp., was among those encouraging attendees to lend their support.
"What is important to the rest of us is to provide a support system to let them accomplish their goals," Walls said.
Jeff Spry, president of City Connections, a nonprofit that fosters collaboration between churches, schools, government, private business and civic groups to achieve community goals, pleaded with attendees to help, noting the community would prosper from the effort.
"If we'll invest in them, something good will come from them," Spry said. "They are ripe and ready. I ask you not to leave here without doing something to help these kids contribute to our community." Sign-up sheets meant to provide the teens with contact numbers of attendees who would offer their assistance "were all full," after the session ended, Taylor said later.
"The whole idea is to help these children," Taylor said. "It's real simple."