Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Partnership to help Rochester entrepreneurs apply for small business loans

Literacy Volunteers of Rochester Inc. has partnered with Kiva Rochester to help spur small business development in the city through its Digital Literacy program.

Kiva Rochester is a partnership between San Francisco-based nonprofit Kiva and the city of Rochester. Kiva crowdsources interest-free loans to small businesses or those interested in starting a small business.

The small-business loans range in size up to $10,000.

LVR’s Digital Literacy is a 5-year-old program that places volunteers in eight community locations to assist people in learning basic computer skills or complete essential computer-related tasks including creating online accounts, seeking information, creating resumes and applying for jobs.

“Kiva is a natural extension of the work we’ve been doing for some time,” LVR’s executive director Bob Mahar said in a statement.

Mahar noted that Digital Literacy will work with loan applicants to complete their online applications, particularly narrative sections that require loan descriptions, business descriptions and their personal stories.

“Our program has seen explosive growth over the last three years because there is such a high demand for what we do,” Mahar added.

The high demand for LVR’s program is due to the digital divide, Mahar said. Nearly 20 percent of Rochester households do not own a computer.

Digital Literacy volunteers work at city libraries, Greece Community Education, Veterans Outreach Center and LVR’s main office on South Avenue. LVR has more than 300 trained volunteers who help to improve the reading, English language, math and digital literacy skills of adults in Monroe County.

Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email [email protected].

Passion for PR bloomed after teaching track derailed

Sometimes a college degree doesn’t perfectly align with a graduate’s professional aspirations, which is exactly what happened to Jessica Lewis, principal publicist and owner of LáLew Public Relations.

Lewis obtained her undergraduate degree in social studies education for grades seven through 12 from Buffalo State College and her master’s degree in teaching and curriculum from the University of Rochester. But soon after graduating, Lewis realized that teaching wasn’t the career path for her. She started out doing community work, working at the Urban League of Rochester and then the Urban Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program. It was around this time that she realized her passion: public relations.

“At my last job we had a tuition reimbursement program, so I took a PR course with Dresden Engle and I loved it,” says Lewis. “She was an amazing instructor. She owns her own PR firm, so she was able to use real-life examples from her own business. I thought to myself ‘I want to do what she does.’ It was so exciting.”

Lewis was hesitant when it came to starting her own public relations firm in Rochester because she didn’t feel like she was the entrepreneurial type. She eventually decided that it was worth a shot, and she began putting together a business plan. Once she developed her concept and got the gumption to get all of the paperwork together, business began.

“The first project that I worked on was with NJS Productions, and the owner brought Mathew Knowles to Rochester for an awards and achievement celebration,” recalls Lewis.

Lewis could not have prepared for the “full-on media blitz” that was about to strike when the public learned that music sensation Beyonce Knowles-Carter’s father would be coming to town.

“Working on this project really confirmed for me that I made the right decision in launching this company,” she says.

From that point forward, business has boomed for LáLew Public Relations.

LáLew offers a variety of services aside from traditional PR, including marketing, branding, social media management, website management and community engagement. Lewis takes pride in opening the “fastest growing black-owned PR firm in Rochester.”

“I’m serving a whole different demographic than a typical PR firm,” she says. “As a result of that, I’m seeing a lot of success early.”

Being able to provide public relations services to a specific demographic has helped Lewis spread the word about LáLew. She has not had to do any advertising for her business; word of mouth has kept her busy and her business afloat.

As the primary employee at LáLew, Lewis certainly has her hands full. But she is an expert when it comes to budgeting her time. Even though she manages a business on her own, she is also the communications specialist for ROC the Future, an initiative of The Children’s Agenda.

An active member of the Rochester community, holding memberships in the Rochester Association of Black Journalists and the Democrat & Chronicle Young Professionals Advisory Council, Lewis feels that being a local small business owner is rewarding.

“Rochester is a great community for a small business owner,” she says. “It’s not a huge market like New York City or Los Angeles; Rochester is just the right size to get your footing. That’s why I’m so happy that in this time of my life I took that leap of faith to start my own company.”

Developing an expertise in communications through her work at various companies in the Rochester area, Lewis says she loves all of the connections and friends she gets to make along the way.

“I’m passionate about working with friends in the media and our local television stations, newspapers, radio outlets and social media,” she says. “I truly enjoy working with people in the community to help them build their brands.”

[email protected] / 585-363-7031