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Diversity Discovery Day in Cleveland a Breakthrough Success

IFA Foundation’s new partnership with Key Bank starts making a difference in the first of many cities

By Radim Dragomaca


The sun wasn’t quite up yet on a crisp Saturday morning in Cleveland, but an auditorium at the Cuyahoga Community College was abuzz with people ready to roll up their sleeves and take the first steps on their franchise journeys. Joining this diverse audience of aspiring entrepreneurs and mingling with them in the coffee line before the event kicked off were executives from Key Bank, the newest sponsor, and partner of the IFA Foundation’s Diversity Institute. The event brought together local business leaders, franchisees, business counselors, bankers as well as members of the Diversity Institute—all united around a simple but powerful message: franchising is for everyone, and we are here to level the playing field of access to franchise opportunities.

The event, first in a series which will continue through the next three years, kicked off with a Franchising 101 dialogue between Stan Friedman, founding board member of the Diversity Institute, and Radim Dragomaca, the Institute’s new Director. Audience questions came early and often, and they showed that the people in the room did not come to be passive spectators to their own entrepreneurial journeys, but were ready to take the driver’s seat. The event continued with a presentation by John Kropf, President of Growth Capital Corp., a certified development company (CDC). CDCs are just one of many actors in the broader Small Business Administration ecosystem that helps people secure the funding they need.

The real stars of the morning, however, were a duo of Cleveland franchisees – Constance Hill-Johnson of Visiting Angels and Vanessa Whiting, a multi-unit franchisee of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen. Their panel brought home for the audience the fullness of the franchisee experience – the hard work, the uncertain beginnings, the winding life paths that can lead to franchising, the 24-hour responsibility that comes with being your own boss and not least of all – the fulfillment and success that can come from being a business owner. Attendee Darlene Carmichael confirmed that this content is exactly what she’s here for. “I wanted to transition from being an employee to a business owner, leaving a legacy for my nieces and nephews. As a minority woman, I want to prove to myself and others like me that we can break through that glass ceiling and make it as business owners,” said Darlene. 

Click here to listen to FRM Solutions President Stan Friedman discuss advocacy and diversity with Visiting Angels' Constance Hill-Johnson!

Following additional sessions on access to capital, expertly led by the team from Key Bank who also ran a financial wellness consulting table on the sidelines of the event, the day wrapped up with a powerful, motivational keynote from Michael Obi, CEO of Spectrum Global Solutions and a local franchisee. The speech left people excited about taking the next steps into business ownership. Alvin Bridges, one of the attendees, said “I think it comes down to passion, and the speakers confirmed that. If you’re in it because you’re passionate and it’s not just about the money, you’re more likely to succeed.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.