“I want to be the decider of my own fate.”
Six months. That’s how long it took Dayquon to put his plan into action.
In September of 2021, Dayquon returned home after serving in the Army for five years. Having spent so much time away from family and friends, Dayquon was ready to reconnect and share the valuable life lessons he’d learned. He had traveled abroad, discovered different cultures, jumped out of airplanes and experienced the gamut of emotions that comes with being committed to a role that takes you away from all that is familiar and comfortable for years at a time. Using this knowledge and worldly exposure, he crafted a vision for how he could use his life’s experiences to give back to his community.
“I have a plan,” he told his friends and colleagues. And as soon as he returned home, he took every step available to make it happen.
Dayquon is one of the participants in United Way’s Start Up for Success program. Start Up for Success is a new United Way program that provides aspiring entrepreneurs with social capital, training, coaching, connection to community resources and start-up funding needed to bring their ideas to life and lead economic development in their community. The program includes a seven-week long class that teaches the fundamentals of entrepreneurship as well as provides staff support following the class to help participants find actionable steps for putting their business ideas into motion.
“The truth is that it’s really hard to get and keep a job and the path is not straightforward in doing that,” said Audrey Trussell, with United Way. “The path to starting a business is even more complex and challenging.” And for under-resourced entrepreneurs that are starting their business without abundant financial or social capital, they also face inequities in accessing vital entrepreneurial opportunities needed to get their business off the ground.
Dayquon entered the program with the start of a clothing, apparel and consulting business called Lowkey Grinders, Inc. After gaining key insights from the Start Up for Success class, some of which he has identified as, “learning how to find the right customers,” and, “how to focus in on one idea first,” Dayquon was able to further develop the mission of his business: to teach youth and adults about taking control of their life’s direction by saving funds, increasing financial literacy and pursuing self-development. Dayquon is inspiring individuals to envision their own path and to seek opportunities in pursuit of their goals, and his apparel business will fund this mission.
But there were times in Dayquon’s life when he did not feel in control of his present or future. When Dayquon was ten years old, his family moved to Chicago.
“Chicago is a very violent place,” Dayquon described. He said that at first, he was sheltered from the violence. Then, when he got older and more comfortable in his environment, he started going out to the basketball courts and would witness some of the violence first-hand. “I started to see it more. I was getting desensitized to it,” he explained.
Dayquon’s grandfather heard about the violence happening in Chicago and brought Dayquon back to live in Virginia. Now, Dayquon teaches youth to be curious and alert, to push against what is expected of them, to remain reflective and to pursue a path that speaks to their ambitions.
“Don’t be a follower,” Dayquon advises. “I tell them to be a student because the student can always ask questions and wonder. Why are we doing this? Why are we doing that?”
Dayquon’s decision to become an entrepreneur was also heavily influenced by his time committed to the Army. Having spent five years in a position with an extremely strict daily regimen, Dayquon found himself locked into a role where everything was decided for him. Towards the end of his five years, he knew that it was time for a change.
“I want to be the decider of my own fate.”
And from that moment, he saw his path unwind before him.
Start Up for Success empowers community members like Dayquon to have autonomy over their future while also enabling them to address the needs of the community. Although United Way gives these entrepreneurs the tools and coaching to bring their ideas to fruition, it is their experiences and perspectives that make them active players in a thriving local economy and allow them to address the hardships of their friends and neighbors. If there’s one key takeaway that we’ve learned from our participants, it’s that local problems require local solutions.
Since the program’s inception in 2021, United Way has mentored ten passionate, under-resourced, local entrepreneurs and hopes to have a new cohort of individuals each year. With the goal of keeping the graduated participants connected, an alumni Basecamp group has been created. This resource will allow participant collaboration and for these local entrepreneurs to share challenges, successes and resources with each other.
To learn more about our Start Up to Success program, visit our webpage https://www.yourunitedway.org/program/start-up-for-success/.