How nonprofits and the government can help entrepreneurs in D.C.

I got started in business with go-go music when I was about 16 years old. I was passing out fliers, networking, and dealing with clubs and big venues. Now I have my own business doing consulting work with the music industry, and I also consult for other people’s campaigns, websites and businesses. 

To succeed as an entrepreneur, you have to read and study and network. I like dealing with people every day; it makes me feel good seeing other people smile and hearing them tell their life stories. People might judge you, but you have to show them differently. Nobody knows you better than you know yourself.  

Right now I’m hustling all the time. I’m still learning.

At Street Sense, people who are experiencing homelessness or who are low-income can join our community and we give them a job opportunity to become an independent vendor. Being a vendor selling papers, you are a sales rep. You get donations for a nonprofit organization. Street Sense is helping me to build my communication skills, my speaking skills and showing me how to build entrepreneurship. Street Sense showed me that you have got to have a database. That is a beautiful thing. Now I understand what I’m missing. 

But there is more that nonprofits like Street Sense could do to support entrepreneurs. There needs to be more classes about starting a nonprofit organization, getting better credit, financial literacy and making resumes. We could have a class where we pitch ideas and see if they are a good fit. Like a stock market, we could donate money for Street Sense to use toward a goal, like buying a building, and after we complete that mission, the interest goes up and it becomes an asset.    

There is more that the government could do, too, to help entrepreneurs. COVID-19 and people working from home slowed a lot of things, and now it’s difficult to interact with some of the people who make and carry out the laws. City staff members don’t have patience to deal with some people, and it’s frustrating. It’s hurting business owners.

The city’s system for renewing your business license is online, but I don’t know how to do that process. It’s so confusing. They didn’t explain it to the business owners and entrepreneurs, and they never taught us to really learn a new system. And if you get a late fee for renewing your license, they charge you. Now we get punished for something that we don’t know how to do.     

The city should build a better platform for renewing business licenses. It should hire a person who specializes in talking to entrepreneurs and teaching them how to be in compliance so that they don’t get taken advantage of and so that their papers come in professionally.   

Maurice Spears is a vendor with Street Sense Media.

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.