Ashley Rose Salvitti had a touch of the tour guide in her all along.
Whenever friends and family came to Portland, she’d cook up itineraries jam-packed with food, fun and plenty of craft beer. It wasn’t hard; after years working as a brewery server, this woman knew her brews.
She also knew how to educate and entertain the people doing the drinking, so when those mini-tours earned high praise, Salvitti took a loan from her home-brewing father, purchased a tour bus and christened herself Owner and Beer Lover at Brewvana Portland Brewing Tours.
Like many small operations, Brewvana was inspired by passion and enthusiasm more than deep entrepreneurial know-how.
“I have an overly optimistic attitude in general,” admits Salvitti. “Which is, for the most part, great. But it can get me into trouble when I go, ‘Oh, yeah, I could do that!’”
A little bravery does a small-business owner good. But there’s no denying the risks entrepreneurship entails: The Small Business Administration estimates just two-thirds of small businesses survive beyond year two.
Luckily, Salvitti was making her move in a city with its own secret small-business weapon: the Portland Business Alliance’s Small Business Management Scholarship Program.
A Community Approach to Small- Business Success
Back in 2009, out of a desire to better support entrepreneurs like Salvitti, Portland’s Chamber of Commerce — known as the Portland Business Alliance — set out to create a training series that would connect small businesses with the resources, education and mentoring they’d need to survive the starter years and thrive throughout the ensuing business cycle.
For help customizing and conducting the program, the Alliance tapped Portland Community College’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC). And to keep the program accessible and essentially tuition-free, the Alliance turned to longtime member company Bank of America, who stepped up and agreed to be the presenting sponsor of the program through its charitable foundation.
With a philanthropic focus on jobs, hunger and housing, Bank of America has long funded traditional workforce development nonprofits in Portland — groups like Dress For Success Oregon, Portland Community College, Oregon Tradeswomen and Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber — and sustainably funding this program was a natural next step, says Craig Christenson, Bank of America’s Senior Vice President and Small Business Banking Manager for Oregon and Southwest Washington.
Small businesses make up 98 percent of Oregon’s companies and supporting them properly means meeting more than just lending and banking needs, Christenson says: “It’s about more than just money. It’s about, What kind of advice and counsel can you give? And that’s what really excited the bank about this program.”
Annually, the Alliance offers spots in the program to 12 Portland businesses who have logged three to five years in operation, have at least one full-time employee and are ready to take their endeavor to the next level.
Participants attend monthly classes taught by experts who emphasize strategies for growing revenue and employees. A solid grasp of such concepts can help a new business avoid some costly missteps, notes David Thompson, Chief Operating Officer at the Alliance: “The program allows small business owners the time and resources to step back and look at their business with a fresh set of eyes. Many take the opportunity to rethink strategies and adopt innovative ideas for growth.”
Case in point: Brewvana, which today shepherds beer lovers around the region seven days a week aboard a fleet of 4 buses. Salvitti credits the Alliance’s program with smartening her approach to money, hiring and task delegation as her operation grew: “Cash flow is challenging for any business. Figuring out how to manage that has been hard, and I can’t do everything. It’s been important to find people whose strengths compliment mine.”
Eight years and seven graduated cohorts in, the program boasts a broad cross-section of alumni, from media and energy to tech and tourism companies.
Students of the Portland Business Alliance small business education program.
And each cohort accelerates the small business community’s shared learning curve, BofA’s Christenson points out: the lessons multiply, small business thrives, and the surrounding community thrives, too, with more jobs and revenue created, and more local products and services purchased.
And that’s good for everybody, notes Christenson, from the smallest start-up to the largest bank: “The success of small business in a local market has an impact on us and on every financial institution. The more successful and more qualified for credit we can make them, the more we reduce potential losses from things that might not be controllable. More success begets more success.”
So what’s next for Brewvana? Salvitti would love to open a taproom for offsite tastings and beer education classes, but the moment’s not quite ripe. By now, she’s learned that good ideas, like good beers, need time to ferment.
“I’m reaching for the sky, thinking about the sky — I’m all up there,” she says. “But I have to bring myself down and take one step before the next and really prepare. You have to think about those decisions and consider every expansion with care. We’ve come a long way, and we want to do it right.
Already an established business or business leader and wondering how you can help support this program? Consider donating financial support through the Portland Business Alliance Charitable Institute. Demand for the program is high, and more funding could mean a second yearly cohort.
71- Number of participating Portland businesses (2011-2016)
136- Number of jobs created during participation in the 10-month class — plus many more in ensuing years.
$4.5- million:Total capital investments made by enrolled businesses
$6.5- million-plus:Increase in sales for enrolled businesses
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