Small business expo highlights Cleveland’s commitment to entrepreneurial diversity

Invited by U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown, Amazon joins federal and local agencies, for her second annual OH-11 Small Business Expo.

4 min
June 6, 2024
U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown gives her keynote address to a crowd of more than 850 business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs

More than 850 small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs filled the auditorium of Tri-C’s Corporate College East on Saturday morning for the second annual OH-11 Small Business Expo, a ‘one-stop shop’ for entrepreneurs of every level.

The event, hosted by Congresswoman Shontel Brown of Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, a self-professed “recovering entrepreneur,” had a special focus this year towards ‘underrepresented and underserved communities.’ For so many years, Rep. Brown said, women and minority business owners that looked like her didn’t have a seat at the table. She’s made it her mission to “level the playing field of opportunity” and that’s why she said, she personally invited Amazon to share how small businesses can start selling in their store.

“I have gone to many small business expos and often times left with a lot of paper and more questions than answers,” said Rep. Brown. “I wanted to make sure that we put something together where people could leave with real opportunities, giving something tangible to the people.”

Lisa Hudson, founder of Luxe Inspires Glow Candle Co

Lisa Hudson, founder of Luxe Inspires Glow Candle Co., said she’s ready to open her store in Amazon

One of the very people Rep. Brown hoped to reach was Lisa Hudson, a Black woman from Cleveland, who started a candle company that delivers positive affirmations. Hudson said she cleared everything on her calendar to come to Saturday’s expo to learn how to turn Luxe Inspires Glow Candle Co. into her full-time job.

“I am in corporate America, so I’m used to getting up at five o’clock in the morning,” said Lisa Hudson. “I want to have that everyday routine for myself, not for somebody else.”

Hudson said she was inspired to hear how Cleveland-based entrepreneur Richard Brown is using his Amazon store to grow Proof Culture into a million-dollar business during the morning’s panel discussion. She said she attended Amazon’s afternoon session to learn how she can do it too. She said she wants to be part of the 11,000 independent sellers from Ohio using Amazon to generate more than $230,000 in average annual sales.

As a female solopreneur, Hudson said it’s hard to prioritize your own growth. Events like this expo are key, she said, because you can get everything you need in one afternoon.

“I wish I had this when I started out,” said Richard Brown, echoing Hudson’s statements. “Being an entrepreneur can be a really lonely journey. A lot of times you’re just in your own space, grinding it out. So, being able to build a network instantly of other business owners is invaluable.”

Proof Culture founder and CEO, Richard Brown, at his OH-11 Small Business Expo booth

Proof Culture founder and CEO, Richard Brown, at his OH-11 Small Business Expo booth

Brown said the event has been inspiring, not just as an entrepreneur, but as a Black entrepreneur from Cleveland. He said it’s common to hear people say, ‘you need to go to a big city to find big success.’ But that’s not true, he said, looking around the room.

“You see people here that have done it successfully, and you see the grittiness that they have and the resourcefulness that they have,” said Brown. “We take it on as a badge of honor to say, ‘I will do it here in Cleveland. And, not only will I do it here but I’m going to do it at a high level.’”

A representative for Amazon at Saturday’s expo said it’s tremendously important to be able to support small businesses in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, and across the country, by attending events like the OH-11 Small Business Expo.

“Amazon is committed to small business success,” said Brandon Webb, Senior Manager of Public Policy. “More than 60% of sales in Amazon’s store are from independent sellers – most of which are small and medium sized businesses. We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without our small business selling partners.”

“If we can support their businesses by helping them connect to more customers, that’s one thing. But by partnering on events like this, we’re able to provide opportunities for small business owners to network, learn best practices from peers in the small business community, and we can support their growth and innovation to help them exceed their expectations,” said Webb. “That’s what we’re in the business of doing at Amazon. Raising the bar.”

U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown meets with Amazon representatives, Dan Corcoran and Brandon Webb before opening Saturday’s small business expo

U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown meets with Amazon representatives, Dan Corcoran and Brandon Webb before opening Saturday’s small business expo

In addition to attending breakout sessions, like the one hosted by Amazon, attendees at Saturday’s expo had the opportunity to register their business with the Secretary of State’s office, forming LLCs or sole proprietorships. Invited to the event were more than two dozen federal and local agencies with a small business focus. From the U.S. Small Business Administration and Department of Transportation to the Urban League of Greater Cleveland’s Entrepreneurship Center.

“I am grateful that we are able to provide an atmosphere where people can network, they can learn how to grow and expand their businesses,” said Rep. Brown. “They can tap into agencies and access resources that they ordinarily probably wouldn’t have access to it. We had people that wanted to start businesses that were able to leave with their LLCs.”

“It is such a gratifying and rewarding feeling when someone walks up to you and says, ‘Hey, I started my business at your expo.’” said Rep. Brown.

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