Cohort of entrepreneurs graduate from Local First Arizona's We Rise … – The Business Journals

A group of 10 Valley-based entrepreneurs is graduating this month from Local First Arizona’s We Rise business accelerator program.
We Rise is a free, six-month skill building program designed to support and grow Black-owned small businesses — some of which include makeup artistry, office support and custom clothing lines — through skill building and classroom instruction.
During the program, participants met bi-weekly and received mentorship from established Black entrepreneurs experienced in starting and growing businesses. The We Rise program also covered topics such as business model development and planning, financial literacy, business licensing, customer service and networking, according to Local First Arizona. 
We Rise’s curriculum was helpful for Leslie Jean Ross, owner of Covered By Grace, an online faith-inspired clothing store.
“I am going to continue applying all the principles I learned in this program,” she said. “I had to do a business plan and a pitch deck. I’ll keep refining it as needed, but it gives me a perfect landscape of where I am and where I’m going to go.”
Ross initially launched Covered By Grace as a company to create garments for ministers of dance, but pivoted it during the pandemic to feature faith-inspired apparel and accessories. 
“Covid had hit at that time and all we were doing is working from home. I learned how to use Photoshop and get the store up and running,” she said. “I started adding other products like custom blankets, rugs, jewelry and faith-inspired products.”
Ross initially learned of the We Rise business accelerator through a woman with whom she attended church and an advertisement on social media, she said.
“One day I applied,” she said. “I didn’t know how far I would get, but then I got an interview and was selected.”
We Rise participants were required to save $1,000 while developing a plan to grow their businesses. Upon graduation on Jan. 30, Local First Arizona is matching the amount We Rise participants put toward developing their businesses up to $1,000.
We Rise launched at the height of the pandemic in 2020, prompted by a similar Local First Arizona accelerator program, Fuerza Local, which supports Hispanic-owned businesses.
The We Rise accelerator program provides entrepreneurs with the foundation needed to build a successful business.
Local First Arizona graduated more than 40 entrepreneurs from We Rise since its inception. More than 800 entrepreneurs graduated from Fuerza Local’s business accelerator since 2013. 
The two programs were created to prevent racial wealth gaps as well as unfair banking and lending practices by connecting Black and Hispanic business owners with mentors, customers and sources of capital, according to Local First Arizona.
Ross, of Covered By Grace, said customer response has been favorable for the company’s faith-inspired clothing line.
“It’s to encourage and empower. Although I’m heavily active in my church, it’s not everyone’s story, so our products can be a conversation starter for some,” she said. “Customers are responding to the positivity and freshness of it all.”
Ross aims to continue building brand awareness and participate in a couple of vendor events, in addition to operating her online business and giving back to community organizations in the future.
 “We Rise is a great program,” she said. “It requires you to be able to communicate, to commit and to be intentional about your business.”
 We Rise January 2023 graduates include:
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