Businesses owned by returning citizens who participate in the WeAspire program sponsored by the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development [DSLBD] competed in a pitch competition for thousands of dollars in prizes at the headquarters of the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization on Aug. 21.
“I am sure glad I decided to participate,” said Michael Borum, who works on the H Street NE cleaning crew and has formed New Beginning, a residential and commercial storefront cleaning business.
“My job thought I should get involved with this,” he said. “The competition gives me the chance to sharpen my communication skills and get feedback on what I need to do to grow my business.”
Borum said cleaning up the District’s storefronts fueled his idea for his business.
“On my job, I perform all kinds of duties: clean the streets, cut the grass, erase graffiti, paint buildings and sidewalks and take down posters,” he said. “People, many who live in Ward 5, would see me working and ask if I could come to their houses and do the same. I got so many requests, I decided to start the business and I have received a lot of encouragement from my supervisors as well as the DSLBD.”
The competition consisted of 35 business owners in the fields of food, art, fashion and beauty, infrastructure and social enterprise. The entrepreneurs talked to a panel of five judges about their businesses to five judges including DSLBD Director Kristi Whitfield.
Each business owner had seven minutes to make a visual presentation with included their purpose for the business, their financing plan, operation costs and benefits to the community and to the proprietor. Each participant will receive at least $2,000 with the winner raking in $10,000.
While the majority of entrepreneurs made their presentations in person, some opted for virtual demonstrations. The winner will be announced later after stakeholders have had the opportunity to provide their input on the competitors.
Joel Caston, the newly-elected advisory neighborhood commissioner representing 7F07 and a resident of the D.C. Jail, also participated in the competition. He talked about his business, Currency Catchers Capital Coaching, designed to assist low-income individuals who lack the financial savvy to “gain financial freedom and build generational wealth.”
“My business is solving the problem of intergenerational poverty caused by the absence of asset ownership for people,” he said. “The mission is to create a culture where asset ownership is as common as owning a cell phone for people from divested communities.”
Whitfield expressed appreciation to all of the competitors.
“Returning citizens are one of the most vulnerable populations in D.C.,” she said. “They don’t have the resources to start businesses even though they have great ideas. This is one way to help them get off their feet and get started.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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