For more than twenty years Leah Ward-Lee, a successful management consultant, boarded a plane every Sunday night, flew to a distant city, spent the week working at a client site and flew home on Friday. 

Five nights a week in a hotel room gave her a lot of time to think about her clients’ businesses and business in general.  In guiding her clients, she knew that every business went through stages and that there were commonalities among those that passed through each stage successfully.

A self-described serial entrepreneur, she came to believe that owning and operating a business put the owner in control of their financial destiny.  She was convinced that businesses could be started for very little money and that starting a business as a “side hustle” while still employed could reduce an entrepreneur’s financial pressure.  It also allowed the entrepreneur to complete the necessary stages of learning and development that, when skipped, cause many businesses to fail.  

Over the course of the next five years Leah added to her own experience by interviewing hundreds of small business owners about their businesses; eventually she published what she’d learned in $1,000 Start-Ups, 60 Businesses for Micro-Entrepreneurs and how to start them.

At the same time, her adult son Tony, who’d been very successful in the bar and restaurant business, realized that over the years he had learned, through personal experience, many lessons about how someone who did not work for a regular paycheck should best manage their finances.  In 2018, he wrote The Bartender’s Guide to Financial Freedom.

Leah knew that Tony’s guide to personal finances dovetailed perfectly with her guide to small business start-ups.  Subsequently she and Tony developed course curriculums and published companion workbooks to go with their textbooks. 

By April 2020, with the Corona Virus spreading, Leah and Tony grew increasingly concerned about the financial effect the economic slowdown was having in the local community, particularly on people in traditionally underserved communities as well as the service industry.

They approached the Cracking the Code – Bridging the Gap Steering Committee and offered to provide entrepreneurship and financial management courses via Zoom as well as provide up to $1,000 business start-up funding, to anyone in the local area who successfully completed the courses.  With the Steering Committee’s endorsement, they recruited a number of potential entrepreneurs interested in taking the courses.

The didactic phase of the courses ran from April to August.  The practical phase of the class then consisted of a series of small business fairs at which the students could practice and learn lessons from demonstrating and selling their products and services to the public.   In August and again in September, the six graduating businesses invited other local area small businesses to join them in these socially distanced fairs held in Fernandina Beach outside Macedonia AME Church.  A total of 25 small businesses participated in each fair in which they not only exchanged “how to” information, made some money and built relationships with other business owners. 

The final fair for the 2020 graduating class, the Small Business Holiday Fair, will be held on November 21st, 2020,again at Macedonia AME Church.  Other small business are again participating

Finally, due to the success of the program and the overwhelming community support, Leah, Tony, her class’s six successful start-ups, and the other participating small businesses established The $1,000 Start-Ups Consortium.

  • Provide economic and re-entry opportunity by training and funding low cost business start-ups for potential entrepreneurs from traditionally marginalized or at-risk communities. 
  • Build a consortium of businesses who mentor, support, and grow with each other.  
  • Provide entrepreneurship and life skills training to potential employees of consortium businesses

Leah Ward-Lee is the author of the book $1000 Start-Ups. To get a copy of the book:

If you live in Fernandina Beach or are a member of Story and Song Bookstore:

If you live outside of Fernandina Beach and are not a member of Story & Song Bookstore:

Leah Ward-Lee is the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.

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