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Freshly baked bread at Rockin’ Bakery on Friday, January 27, 2022 in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Inside a Community-Driven Campaign to Unleash Entrepreneurial Opportunity

February 3, 2022
In Northwest Arkansas, Right to Start amplifies the voices of underserved entrepreneurs and helps remove barriers to their success

When Daymara Baker opened her new business, Rockin’ Baker, in 2016, she had a clear mission and vision for the nonprofit venture.

Daymara wanted to produce high-quality artisanal breads for restaurants and retail customers in Northwest Arkansas. In addition, she wanted to employ individuals with autism, whose skills are often overlooked and undervalued in traditional workplaces.

“My goal was to create a safe space for our cadet bakers, where they could gain confidence and the self-esteem to retain their jobs,” says Daymara. “Many of these kids are never given a chance or opportunity to succeed. I want them to be proud of who they are and recognize their different capabilities should never stop them from pursuing their goals.”

Daymara Baker is a community advocate with Right to Start and founder of Rockin' Bakery in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Daymara’s decision to open a social enterprise marked a sharp professional departure for the Venezuela native, a former account executive with Chiquita Brands: “I have never been an entrepreneur in my life.”

There were the operational challenges of creating, refining and perfecting bread recipes and finding a market for her products, while also training her employees to embrace rather than hide their unique personalities and skills.

Then there were the unexpected obstacles.

Daymara faced a fragmented maze of licensing requirements, bureaucratic paperwork and financing hurdles that often hinder or prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from pursuing their dreams.

“I am an educated person, with an MBA, and yet I found it extremely challenging,” Daymara says.

Small businesses like Rockin' Baker face a maze of licensing requirements, bureaucratic paperwork and financing hurdles that can hinder success. Here, one of Rockin' Baker's neurodiverse cadet bakers removes bread from an oven.

Determined to make access to entrepreneurial opportunity a public priority, Daymara has channeled her frustrations into action. Last year, she became an advocate with Right to Start, a national nonprofit organization that engages communities and small business owners to advocate for public policies that lower barriers to entrepreneurial success.

With support from the Walton Family Foundation, Right to Start works in Northwest Arkansas with underserved, minority and immigrant communities to build a more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“Our mission is to connect the voices of the entrepreneurs with the policy makers,” says Daymara. “I talk to the entrepreneurs to learn more about their needs and to have a better understanding of the things that are getting in their way. Then I connect those community voices with policy makers so they can hear firsthand the struggles these entrepreneurs are facing.”

Kim Lane, Right to Start’s chief operating officer and a resident of Conway, Ark., said the organization aims to “close the gap between the grassroots entrepreneurs and the grasstops, the policy makers and civic leaders.”

Kim Lane is chief operating officer at Right to Start

That inclusive work starts by listening. In Northwest Arkansas, Right to Start’s three advocates engage directly with entrepreneurs in the region’s growing Hispanic and Marshallese communities, among others. Many of those entrepreneurs run small businesses that provide essential services to their communities.

The barriers they face include everything from a lack of access to capital to often-excessive licensing requirements to the need to pay government fees even before a new business can generate income. In addition to helping build relationships between entrepreneurs and policy makers, Right to Start also connects entrepreneurs to local entrepreneurial support organizations that offer free mentorship on various topics, from financing to business planning to marketing.

Right to Start engages entrepreneurs and connects them to policy makers to lower barriers to entrepreneurial success. Here, advocate Daymara Bakers hosts a convening with policymakers and entrepreneurs at Sweet Freedom Cheese in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“We’re very intentional. Entrepreneurs’ needs are at the forefront of all the work that we do,” Kim says. “It's about helping people gain social capital and access to the right people and relationships.”

At the root of Right to Start’s mission is an understanding of the impact entrepreneurs have on the economic health and quality of life in communities. Entrepreneurs are critical to long-term economic success. Regions that started with stronger entrepreneurial ecosystems saw notably faster employment growth. In addition, there is a strong connection between a state’s rate of entrepreneurship and declines in poverty.

“When you look at the majority of net new job growth, it comes from new companies,” says Kim.

Right to Start connects new businesses like Red Barn Donuts (shown) in Rogers, Arkansas to local entrepreneurial support organizations that offer free mentorship on topics including financing and marketing.

“If we are able to infuse a spark of entrepreneurship in communities, it creates new pipelines for people in places where there is a strong entrepreneurial spirit but little opportunity.”

In Northwest Arkansas, Right to Start’s work is having an impact. Over the past year, Daymara and fellow advocates Melisa Laelan and Irma Chavez engaged more than 80 entrepreneurs and two dozen community leaders and hosted 17 ‘start parties’ with business owners. Right to Start has also put together a “Start Show” highlighting the ongoing efforts of entrepreneurs and policymakers in galvanizing small business growth in Northwest Arkansas. One looming achievement: The city of Fayetteville has drafted a proposal to waive its licensing fee for a business’s first year.

For Daymara, this is an example of the power of perseverance and how success is possible when policy makers listen to entrepreneurs and recognize the impact they can have on a community’s economic success.

One of Right to Start's goals is to “infuse a spark of entrepreneurship in communities,' says Daymara Baker. Today, she employs seven neurodivere cadet bakers and serves restaurants and retail customers throughout Northwest Arkansas.

“I was told so many times in my own business that my vision was not really achievable, that I was living too big. Those attitudes need to change,” Daymara says.

“In the same way entrepreneurs sometimes aren’t aware of the resources available to them, it’s extremely important that policy makers understand what small businesses go through,” she adds. “I don't think there is a better way for policy makers to learn about entrepreneurship than to hear from an entrepreneur who has been going through those experiences. That’s what makes Right to Start’s work so essential.”

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