Bret Sweet: Creating Opportunity with Renaissance


Richmond residents are thrifty, ambitious, and resilient. They have something to prove, and they don't want to be the little brother to other cities in the Bay Area. These characteristics are clear in the city’s small business community. We see this at Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, where some of the most creative, hard-working people in the city come to start businesses that will transform their communities. 

The goal of Renaissance is to empower and increase the entrepreneurial capacities of socially and economically diverse women and men, and thereby strengthen our communities through the creation of sustainable new businesses, new jobs, and the promotion of financial self-sufficiency. Anyone is welcome, but we specialize on making it a safe space for women and entrepreneurs who might need a leg up.

We have this perception in this country where we think that we have everything it takes to start a business because we are American; history tells us we are a nation of entrepreneurs and pioneers. The assumption is that all we have to do is want something and the rest comes easy. However in fact there's a lot that goes into starting a successful business. There’s a lot of planning involved, and many businesses fail because they do not plan. At Renaissance I see a lot people who have a good idea for a business in their community, but they don’t know how to get it started or who can help them. 

Part of what we do is training to help people get the hard and soft skills they need to have a local, small business succeed over a 10- or 30-year period. We also work to create a new, thriving business community among local entrepreneurs. Our MeetUp group now has over 100 people contribute regularly, which is phenomenal to us.  

Our participants benefit from these meet ups because it’s the one place where people with similar backgrounds and interests but different experience levels can meet and talk. It’s inspiring to them, because it helps people find their peers who can teach them the skills and tips they learned from lived experience. Then they can collaborate in the future to help bring each other up. 

Renaissance started in Richmond in late 2013, really kicked it up a notch in 2014, and we’re working to double our number of clients this year. From observation, it takes about two and a half years for a client to go through our classes and launch their business. We will soon be at a point where people are going to be launching businesses. We think that 2016 is going to be a big year for Renaissance and for new small businesses in Richmond.  

We’re working to empower people who can come back and empower their communities through the businesses they start. When people start businesses that connect with the needs of people in the community, like grocery stores in Richmond, or a massage parlor in Hilltop, we see the community responding to them in a real way. That’s what we want to do, and what we will continue to do.  

Local entrepreneurs who want to kick start their own businesses are welcome to work with us. Email me here, or look through our website, and let’s grow Richmond’s small business community.


By: Bret Sweet, Program Manager, Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, Richmond

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