Networking and learning about minority business certificate benefits proved ‘priceless’ for Berkshire Black Economic Council members

PITTSFIELD — Photographer and videographer DeSean Scales launched his business right in the middle of the pandemic, and while that was difficult, navigating the world of a private business owner has proven to be just as daunting. 

Formed in 2021, DScalesPhotoLab does promotional work for business websites as well as portraiture, automotive and sports photography. Scales, 28, is a Pittsfield native who graduated from Pittsfield High School and has taken some courses at Berkshire Community College.

“My challenges have been transitioning from a hobbyist photographer and trying to be a business owner,” he said. “Learning all the dynamics behind photography and videography comes like second nature to me. I’ve done it for so long. But trying to understand forming the LLC and just everything that’s behind it, there’s a lot more that I would like to learn.”

Scales found his way to his first Berkshire Black Economic Council Minority Business Enterprise Workshop last Friday at Proprietor’s Lodge with about 30 other business owners, panelists and representatives from state agencies, including MassHire and the Supplier Diversity Office.

He struck up a conversation with Ludwig Jean-Louis, who owns Cravins Ice Cream on Elm Street in Pittsfield.

Jean-Louis, also a Pittsfield High School graduate, has about 10 part-time employees at the ice cream shop he acquired about a year ago, mostly siblings and cousins. 

“I came in hopes to get the minority business certification, just to have that tag, to help promote myself in other spaces,” said Jean-Louis. “Because I know that once you’re certified in these spaces, you’re more likely to get noticed by other businesses.” 

At the event, presenters and panelists discussed opportunities available to Minority Business Enterprise certified businesses, including grants and aid. To qualify for the certificate, the business must be at least 51 percent owned by minority group members and be dominantly controlled by them. The process can take several months, but the benefits of putting in the work seemed to far outweigh the time and effort for many of the business owners in attendance. 

Ranisha Grice, a spa therapist who owns Grice Beauty and creates body oils and skin care, has been in business for three years. She was interested to learn about the opportunities that minority-owned business certification can afford small businesses, “so I can start getting contracts.”

Emmanuel Bilé, co-founder of Choices Mentoring Initiative, which mentors African-American boys ages 10 to 17 at the Tyler Street Lab, was also in attendance. 

“As a Black business I hope to see where we can get more support and be part of a community that is oriented somewhat to Black businesses,” Bilé said.

He said he’s already had some businesses and schools reach out to ask how to partner with him. Some of the students travel from as far away as North Adams and Housatonic; others are from Dalton and Pittsfield.

“Our hope is to help them know themselves and the choices that they make and how that impacts their families, their schools and our community so they could also have the opportunities to grow, to be successful citizens,” he said.

David Benle, who works three jobs, came to the event hoping to find ways to grow his day trading business and trainings offered under the name Zone Traders Corp. Benle said he stays up until 3 a.m. to trade currency on the London stock exchange.

When The Eagle followed up with Grice, Bilé, Benle and Scales after the session, they all said they plan to put in the time and effort to pursue the state’s minority-owned business certification.

“I didn’t realize how much more opportunity you could gain for your business by acquiring one of those,” Scales said. “Just the various certifications and resources that are available to business owners.”

He also enjoyed meeting successful entrepreneurs.

“For a first experience, it was priceless,” Scales said.

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