Take Them In

Genia Stevens always knew the importance of helping others, but for her it came naturally. One of four siblings, Stevens grew up in rural Waynesboro, Ga., watching her grandmother, Freddie Mae, care for others without hesitation.

“She held down the entire family – aunts, uncles, grandkids – everyone,” says Stevens. “We even had a man who wasn’t a blood relative sleeping and staying there. That was the norm. You take people in and help them, and that’s what my grandmother did.”

Stevens finds herself doing the same. Today, she’s the executive director of Rock County Jumpstart, a Beloit nonprofit that helps minority business owners to achieve success.

The organization offers a business incubator and accelerator that deliver one-on-one coaching, classes, workshops and online learning through LinkedIn. The free 10-week immersive training culminates in a “Shark Tank”-style business pitch with the winner taking home grant funding.

Stevens launched Rock County Jumpstart in 2019 after serving as the entrepreneur in residence at Madison College, in Madison, Wis. In that role, she offered similar services for entrepreneurs who struggled with structure, financing and making meaningful connections with more traditional business resources.

The aha moment came when she realized there was nothing like this in the Beloit-Janesville area, where she attended college and was running her own marketing business – while also mentoring clients. For the Navy veteran and serial entrepreneur, who had always provided a guiding light to her peers, it seemed only natural to fill the need.

“As black and brown business owners, we have a lot of issues we bring with us into our adult world that influence many decisions we make running our business that can hold us back,” says Stevens. “When you have programs in the area that are run by people who don’t understand that, it keeps them from fully being able to provide black and brown business owners with what they need.”

By focusing solely on this population, Stevens hopes to create a network of prosperous business owners.

“I emphasize on the first day of class that I want everyone to work together and form a relationship,” says Stevens, who’s now planning a hub for like-minded entrepreneurs. “By the time the 10-week program ends, I want them to leave here and continue to work together, because we can’t do this without each other.”

Stevens is continually improving her skills as a coach and mentor, and that includes the wisdom of her grandmother.

“My grandmother is my moral fabric and continues to guide how I behave,” says Stevens. “I think about her when I’m thinking about if I should do or say something. I love helping people. It’s just who I am, and I get it from her.”