Local entrepreneurs receive $6,500 from Knoxville Area Urban League CO.STARTERS pitch contest

June 30, 2021

Local entrepreneur Randy Boyd presented checks totaling $6,500 on June 30 to three winners of the annual business pitch contest held by the Knoxville Area Urban League.

The nonprofit’s 10-week CO.STARTERS program allows entrepreneurs to build and test small business ideas while gaining feedback from their classroom peers and instructors and input from local, successful business owners. At the end of the program, participants pitch their business to a panel of judges for a chance to win.

The winners are Lance Williams of IssssStr8 Attire LLC, first place, $5,000; Monica Smith-Albright of D’vyne Creations, second place, $1,000; and Efrain Fermin Julio of La Cocina Otomi Mexican Restaurant, third place, $500.

“These three entrepreneurs created a vision to start a new venture and followed their passion with a commitment to become a successful business owner,” said Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. “The CO.STARTERS program is specifically intended to empower businesses like these and bring new jobs to our community. Small businesses are the bedrock of the community.”

From left, Lance Williams of IssssStr8 Attire LLC; Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League; entrepreneur Randy Boyd; Efrain Fermin Julio of La Cocina Otomi Mexican Restaurant; and Monica Smith-Albright of D’vyne Creations celebrate the Urban League’s annual business pitch contest.

Williams owns IssssStr8 Attire LLC, which specializes in one-of-a-kind custom apparel. Williams started the apparel line as a form of merchandising for his music and will boost his business with the CO.STARTERS funds by expanding his e-commerce efforts, updating the apparel website, upgrading his equipment and traveling to venues for promotional efforts.

“The CO.STARTERS program has been a great benefit and helped me focus on what I need to do to grow my business and how to execute that plan,” Williams said. “I set 30-, 60- and 90-day goals to promote my brand, create new custom designs and have all merchandise available for sale on my website.”

Smith-Albright created D’vyne Creations, a made-to-order bakery that specializes in gourmet cookies, which are packaged individually with custom labels and are available for shipment in gourmet gift bags, gift boxes and the Taste of D’vyne Gourmet Box for meetings and special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries. The home-based business also has access to a licensed kitchen.

“The inspiration behind our name and business came out of our desire to start our family,” Smith-Albright said. “After experiencing three devasting losses, we were blessed with a divine gift in the birth of our daughter, Ayanna. Her birth brought new life and an overwhelming amount of joy, peace, and satisfaction, not only to me and my husband, but also to our family and friends.”

Smith-Albright became a work-at-home mother to care for her daughter and will use the CO.STARTERS funds to upgrade technology and build a secure and user-friendly website for better customer service and to build online sales.

“The program helped me understand the dynamics of starting a new business and learning who your customers are and how to manage and maintain financial records, including income statements, balance sheets, and profit and loss statements,” she said. “I learned business basics, best practices and practical information for starting and maintaining a small business from successful business owners who have experienced decades of success in Knoxville.”

Julio is the owner of La Cocina Otomi Mexican Restaurant, which will focus on authentic ingredients and Mexican dishes that are delicious, nutritious and healthy. He will rely on his background in cooking and an extensive collection of recipes.

“I want to make authentic Mexican food that everyone can enjoy and that also is good for them, combatting the perception of Mexican food being unhealthy,” Julio said. “My passion comes from my heritage, and my recipes are inspired by family tradition and made with love.”

The Knoxville Area Urban League’s business programs, including CO.STARTERS, are part of the organization’s efforts to fulfill its mission of economic empowerment and stability for people of all backgrounds. Through these programs, as well as a lending program, the nonprofit supports entrepreneurs at all stages in their business development.

A leader in business and the community for many years, Boyd also serves as president of the University of Tennessee system. Boyd and his wife, Jenny Boyd, a philanthropist and business owner, provide funding for the CO.STARTERS program as part of their personal commitment to entrepreneurship and opportunity in Knoxville.

“I am especially grateful to be involved in this Knoxville Area Urban League program after such a difficult year. More than ever, small businesses need support,” Randy Boyd said. “CO.STARTERS helps entrepreneurs clarify their goals and find their path to success. Our community thrives when everyone has access to economic opportunities, and I congratulate our three latest entrepreneurs for their commitment.”

Funding for the programs also was provided by community partner and entrepreneur Dr. Joseph Kendrick, founder and owner of Asheville Highway Animal Hospital.

For more information or to apply for one of the Knoxville Area Urban League’s business programs or capital loans, visit www.thekaul.org.

About the Knoxville Area Urban League

Since 1968, the Knoxville Area Urban League has assisted disadvantaged people attain social and economic stability and self-sufficiency through direct services and advocacy. The League works to provide a skilled and diverse workforce; to increase homeownership; to support economic and small business development, and to enhance education efforts for our youth. The Knoxville Area Urban League is a United Way partner agency and affiliate of the National Urban League. The League’s work and results are evident in the lives of the over 8,000 people it impacts each year. For more information, call 865-524-5511 or visit www.thekaul.org.