Written by Manisha Joshi

Written by Manisha Joshi

First implemented in 2014, the JAX Bridges program has grown into an incredible platform for every level of entrepreneurship that connects participants at any stage of their ideas or businesses with tools, resources and opportunities that cannot be found elsewhere.

The JAX Chamber Small Business Leader of the Year award celebrates the true entrepreneurial spirit of small businesses, and each year Chamber council members are invited to nominate an individual that meets the required qualifications and criteria. A record number of JAX Bridges graduates were named 2020 JAX Chamber Small Business Leaders of the Year— a historical achievement for the JAX Bridges community.

Graduates entered JAX Bridges at varying stages of their business from industries such as digital marketing and financial planning to workforce training and technology services.

“JAX Bridges is not a theory; it is real and applicable. Typical schooling teaching marketing, business plans and forecasting do not always apply in the real world. This program teaches usable and applicable models and documents that you can scale and refine over time. It’s fantastic,” said JAX Bridges graduate and IT Council Small Business Leader of the Year Aaron Enos.

West Council SBLY Charles Johnston says, “I never thought about my business the way the program teaches you to. It was beyond what I thought, especially because it opened my eyes when I realized how much I have to offer.”

North Council SBLY Earl Kelly said his business model canvas hung on his wall as a point of reference for so long that it began to fade over time. “I would come across a new product and then glance up at my business model on the wall and be able to figure out where it would fit. If it did not, we would not offer it. We have changed the model many times to meet different customer demands. In the beginning, we offered customer support, what we call a ‘Break-Fix Model’ however, our company has evolved into more consulting and managing resulting in multiple clients that are regulars.”

Small Business Leaders of the Year agree that their cohorts introduced them to friendships and connections that shared the same goals, challenges and frustrations every business owner faces. “No matter where I go, if I meet a JAX Bridges alumnus, knowing what they have been through and where they are now is a great motivator because that’s where any one of us could be,” said Kelly.

Stephen Hudson, Mandarin Council’s SBLY shared, “The JAX Chamber fosters more of a family-like relationship among its members and JAX Bridges is a perfect example of that. We were all in the same boat learning from other’s mistakes as well as their successes. JAX Bridges stopped us from falling into a rabbit hole of debt by turning things around to get us financially healthy to where we can reinvest in the business. You cannot find the kind of leverageable resources or experiences anywhere else. JAX Bridges is just not for startups, there are elements that will take you the next level no matter what stage you are at.”

While each graduate had obstacles to overcome, they admit to learning how to get out of their own way. For Alfreda Boney, Entrepreneurial Growth Division’s SBLY, says her eyes were opened by writing her capability statement.

“Creating my statement was the day things changed. My entire business pivoted because I was able to visually see my offerings on paper. JAX Bridges teaches you to share your gifts and give you a complete foundation in all aspects of your business.”

Johnston was able to establish new connections. He said, “Hearing everyone’s aches and pains and how they worked through it was exciting — we were all in this together. You cannot run a business on fear and this program leads you to a lot of ‘a-ha!’ moments when I would say to myself, ‘What was I thinking?’”

When asked if they would take the program again, the question was met with a resounding, yes. Alfreda was all smiles as she said, “Sitting in JAX Bridges, I absorbed so much knowledge by listening and learning. Where in the world would you get the experience to do your business right, at no cost, make expert connections and be able to network with peers that understand your passion and skill set? In most program settings, we are told what to do. Don’t tell me what to do. Tell me what I need and why so I can understand how to run my business. JAX Bridges gave me that. I walked in as a participant and now to be on other side to mentor and teach others is an opportunity I would not have found elsewhere.”

Visit jaxbridges.com for application and signup opportunities.