The business incubator launched in 2019 and is taking off quickly.
Deonna Barnett started her small business in January 2019 with the goal of supporting other women, Black and minority entrepreneurs. By the close of 2020, her company, Aventi Enterprises, had served more than 300 clients and launched a virtual business plan competition.
Barnett founded Aventi Enterprises after serving as the executive director of Increase Community Development Corp., a Columbus small business development organization that ceased operations in 2018. “After I left, people were looking for me asking, ‘Can you continue to help me?’ ” Barnett says.
Aventi offers consulting, coaching and training for emerging CEOs and leaders of nonprofits. It specializes in supporting women and minority-owned businesses with strategy and planning, financing and certifications. “Aventi is really pushing for an inclusive economy,” Barnett says. Women and minority leaders need extra support because “they are the most disadvantaged business owners” due to lack of funding, education and the networks needed to successfully run a business, she says.
Aventi supported about 100 clients in 2019 with Barnett working as a solopreneur, and then she brought on two full-time staff members in 2020 as she doubled her clientele. She helped businesses secure more than $700,000 in funding in 2020.Stay up to date with the region’s dynamic business scene. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.
COVID-19 boosted Aventi’s business during the pandemic, with the company helping many small businesses walk through the process to access federal and local pandemic relief funding. Barnett and her team also worked with the Columbus Urban League and the Franklin County Community Equity Fund to help connect grants to minority-owned businesses.
One of Aventi’s core services is providing business strategy and planning, with a strong focus on online education. Barnett says she’s served businesses worldwide with an online course focused on business model design and planning. It takes founders one to three months to complete, and they have a complete business plan by the end. Aventi reviews the plans of all companies that complete the course to help them know when they’re ready to proceed to funding sources and additional business consulting.
Technology is a strategic priority for Aventi moving forward, and Barnett sees it “moving to the forefront of our services.” Beyond online education, Aventi looks to help businesses build e-commerce sites and utilize technology, and to make sure consumers can access and use the technology needed to connect with these businesses.
A third major service Aventi offers to small businesses is helping them get certified to do business with the government. Barnett worked as a certification coach while starting her business and acquired Essentia Strategy Group in 2019 to solidify this service offering for Aventi.
Markeisha Johnson Mason, founder and owner of skin care company Bom Bombs, completed Aventi’s “Side Hustle to CEO” education program in 2020 just as the pandemic hit. Aventi then helped Mason’s small business secure a Local Economically Disadvantaged Enterprise certification, which led to a contract with Columbus City Schools to provide hand sanitizer to schools.
Mason says Aventi’s education and coaching were a “powerful game-changer” for her small business. She told Barnett in goal-setting meetings early in 2020 she wanted to generate $14,000, but by the end of the year was projected to book $250,000 in revenue.
Beyond serving individual clients, Barnett uses her expertise to create an environment where more female- and minority-owned businesses can thrive. Barnett serves as vice president of programming for the National Association of Women Business Owners Columbus Chapter, and she worked with NAWBO to help Ohio get a Women Business Enterprise certification in 2020.
“We’re continuing to advocate for resources under that WBE certification program, whether it’s financial or networking-wise, grant opportunities, contracts,” Barnett says. She adds that Aventi is also working with institutions and agencies that would help minorities access capital, credit and government opportunities.
Aventi also launched a virtual business plan competition for women and minority business owners to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week in November.
Finalists had to share “the problem they’re solving, concept, marketing, pricing, operations, competitive advantage, sales projections, in five minutes,” Barnett says.
Finalists received a consultation with Aventi, resources from a panel of judges and public recognition. Aventi awarded $1,000 to winner Lorii Wallace of Evolve Productions and $500 to runner-up Anique Russell of Too Good Eats.
Evolve Productions collaborates with other organizations to create “edutainment” experiences—productions and campaigns that advance social change through the arts using talent from the community. Wallace says she thinks her company stood out because it looks at how the community can work together to create messages that leave a lasting impression.
“Art is unifying. It doesn’t care what color or gender you are,” she says. “My work with Aventi helped me fine-tune exactly what I wanted the nonprofit to be and how exactly I want it to impact the community.”
Mary Sterenberg is a freelance writer.