When LaWayne Nockai worked as a structural steel painter several years ago, he hated his job. What he really loved was hosting barbecues for his friends and family members who always complimented his cooking, so he decided to start a business. Today, Wayne’s Mobile Kitchen and Catering specializes in barbecue, smoked meats, and Cajun dishes and provides lunches for businesses in Omaha, Nebraska.
“I had never worked in a restaurant or had any business experience, but I jumped into it and had to learn a lot of things the hard way,” Nockai said. “I had a business plan and tried to go to a bank, and they turned me down right away for a loan.”
Fortunately, he found Nebraska Enterprise Fund, which not only provided him with a $35,000 loan but also offered resources through its Business Acumen Training, Mentoring, and Finance (BATMF) program, which focuses on African American and Hispanic small business owners in North and South Omaha. Since then, Nockai has increased sales by about 300 percent, purchased two new vehicles, and hired more staff to support the additional business.
A three-year impact
Nebraska Enterprise Fund is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that provides business development services and financing to micro and small businesses across the state. It is one of 14 CDFIs receiving funding through the third round of awards for the Wells Fargo Works for Small Business®: Diverse Community Capital program.
The three-year program, which launched in November 2015, will award $50 million in lending capital and $25 million in grants to CDFIs during six rounds — helping the CDFIs provide diverse-owned small businesses access to capital, technical assistance, business planning, and other resources. CDFIs can visit the program page to learn more.
To date, Wells Fargo has awarded more than $46.5 million to CDFIs through the program, allowing them to help business owners like Nockai and Celeste Phillips — who started Big LuLu’s Trucking LLC with the help of Diverse Community Capital recipient Bridgeway Capital.
“Stories like Wayne’s and Celeste’s remind me every day just how important this program is, and how critical it is that Wells Fargo supports Community Development Financial Institutions,” said Connie Smith, program manager for the Diverse Community Capital program. “CDFIs provide a pathway that allows entrepreneurs to grow their business acumen, which can eventually grow their business, and we hope that will help diverse business owners to build wealth.”
‘It’s a blessing’
Nebraska Enterprise Fund is receiving a total of $695,000 through the Diverse Community Capital program: a $195,000 grant and $500,000 in low-interest, long-term loan funds, which will help provide loans to small business owners.
“This means we have three more years of funding for the Business Acumen Training, Mentoring, and Finance program,” said Jim Reiff, executive director of Nebraska Enterprise Fund. “With the uncertainty we’re seeing in terms of government funding, it’s a blessing that we’re seeing Wells Fargo and other private businesses step up in places that will hopefully grow our business economy and small business ecosystem.”
Many of the small businesses Nebraska Enterprise Fund supports may need additional business training but lack the spare funds for it. “This funding allows the training to happen and keeps our staff up to speed with best practices,” Reiff said. “The whole purpose of the BATMF program is to help businesses grow their sales because, at the end of the day, if you don’t grow the product, it’s not going to be viable.”
When Nockai first started as an indoor lunch vendor selling food at local offices, his goal was to just sell enough food each day. Classes offered by the BATMF program helped him develop his vision, values, price points, marketing plan, and short- and long-term goals.
He set goals to line up additional clients, hire more staff, and market his company online. He now has three additional employees and provides lunch vending services for about 15 offices a week; some days his business provides lunches at five offices in a day.
Nockai attributes his success to what he learned in the BATMF program and the staff at the Nebraska Enterprise Fund.
“It’s a really great program, and they’re actually there to help people,” Nockai said. “Their main objective is to see you succeed, and they have everything you need.”