Start It held its graduation on Dec. 20, 2016. | Ben Cleeton, Staff Photo

Getting Started

Start It course inspires students who have a wide range of creative entrepreneurship ideas

For those of you who have been following my Friendly Five column regularly, you know that I usually write about local musicians and their accomplishments. That theme hasn’t been abandoned, but I have chosen this month to write about another interest: entrepreneurship.

I hope the topic will still be of interest to the non-musician readers of my Friendly Five column. I expect my musician friend readers to find it of interest because almost every one of them that I’ve ever encountered has been an entrepreneur. If you don’t believe me, just try to get one of them to play for you for free. You’ll become a believer very quickly. LOL!

This month’s column has something useful for all. It’s about a 12-week business course called Start It.

CenterState CEO offers the course for people who are thinking about starting up businesses and also for entrepreneurs who are in the early stages of businesses they have started. The program focuses on helping individuals and partners to think through their business ideas and create viable business plans. Classes are held weekly, and the curriculum is presented by Rickey Brown of Diversify NY and myself. Dan Cowen of CenterState CEO is the program’s director.


Start It
Entrepreneurs learn, among other things, how to analyze and define their target markets. They develop a 30-second elevator pitch and learn how to effectively use it to help market their businesses.

At the beginning of the course, Tricia Stewart, who wants to open a Grenadian restaurant, said, “I’m not good at public speaking.” Asia Matthews, of Asia’s Lash & Brow, thought the same thing. At graduation, however, both gave business presentations with calm and finesse.

Classes are usually made up of individuals with a wide range of creative business ideas. The recent graduating class included event promoters, masseuses, boat seat upholsterers and sellers of skincare products. Jaqueline and Chris Travis, a husband-and-wife team, were in the class. They described their business idea, always in unison, as “empanadas, empanadas, empanadas.”

They plan to start a food truck featuring authentic Bolivian food, including, of course, empanadas.

Shankevia “Kevi” Dean was one of the food service providers in the class. Kevi has a master’s degree in social work and is employed full time at OCM BOCES. She began her business, “Kevi’s Treats,” in 2012 while she was a student at Syracuse University. “I started selling my lemon cookies as a way to earn extra money,” she said. “I found that I liked it and wanted to keep building on it after graduation.”

Kevi’s business model drives her sales — she delivers. A banner on her website,, states: “Kevi’s Treats. Because grandma doesn’t deliver.”

Asia, of Asia’s Lash & Brow, has been a licensed esthetician since 2010. She promotes her business through word of mouth and Facebook. In a recent post, she described the role of an esthetician. “An Esthetician is someone who is devoted to, or professionally occupied with skin health and beauty.” Asia provides facials and lash and brow treatments. Her dream is to open a full-service spa where people can be pampered. She works by appointment only and can be reached at (315) 288-8087. Her business is located at 404 Oak Street, Suite 340.

Graduation was Dec. 20, 2016, with nearly 20 graduates. Dan helped Rickey and me to host a ceremony at the Tech Garden, 235 Harrison St., by securing the place for us. He also knocked the ball out of the park with some delicious authentic Jamaican food from the Jerk Hut. Sarah Robin, a class participant who is new to the U.S., brought a delicious dish from her native Pakistan.

John Pertillar, of Ramenes Home Improvement, brought his wife and kids to graduation. He describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” and recently opened a car lot to augment his business activities.

“I am working hard to build something that I can leave my family,” he said. “I want them to know what I am doing. I’m doing this for them.”



— Article by Reggie Seigler, who regularly contributes A Friendly Five music column. If you have suggestions for a musician or band to feature in the future, contact Reggie at or (315) 479-9620

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