This Entrepreneur Fund client feature was written and published by our partner Cnote.
Jamar Kirk didn’t have to think too hard about what to name his new business, which provides consulting, coaching, mentoring, and resources to often marginalized and at-risk demographics of his community — a community that struggles with violence, drug use, and a 50 percent high school attrition rate for minority students. After all, that’s just like the community Jamar grew up in.
Breaking the Cycle
Jamar was born and raised in a drug-infested neighborhood in Gary, Indiana by his mother and grandmother, and he moved to Duluth, Minnesota just before his 15th birthday. According to him, he was pretty angry about it. Although he wanted to remain close to his grandmother, his friends, and his hometown, Jamar’s world began to change. He began losing friends to violence and drugs, and the odds felt stacked against him at school.
“When I was in high school, my mom couldn’t afford to buy me school clothes,” Jamar recalled. “So it’s winter in Duluth, and I’m in holey shoes and a coat that didn’t zip up, and I’m not really eating the greatest at home. You’re dealing with all of that and then you have to show up at school and be perfect. It’s not a great feeling.”
Jamar’s struggles weren’t unique to him, and the challenges he faced when he was a teenager are the same that many continue to face today. However, through organized sports, fortuitous friendships, and strong mentorship, Jamar navigated his way to where he is today: the entrepreneur behind Cycles Broken LLC.
“I identify with a lot of the kids that I see here,” Jamar said. “A lot of the young men I see here are about to go through the exact same things that I went through. If I can reach out to this or that person and directly have an effect on them or start a wave of change for them, I’m here for it. It’s really personal to me.”
Jamar launched Cycles Broken earlier in 2019 to help those trying to break out of the same cycles he escaped. Jamar provides moral support and life coaching, and his expertise includes helping clients manage their finances, establish credit, buy homes, get visitation rights and secure child support. Although he consults, coaches and mentors individuals and families, Jamar also works closely with local nonprofits and businesses.
Recently, Jamar received a grant to facilitate a series of business planning workshops with Families Rise Together, a nonprofit that works to strengthen families by engaging parents in their children’s lives and in the community. The sessions will target 18 to 31-year-olds, and according to Jamar, the grant will allow him to improve and expand curricula he developed for previous workshops.
“It’s so exciting when those small accomplishments happen because it means somebody else is going to receive something,” he said. “It allows me to say, ‘alright, I’m ready to help. What’s next?’”
Help Me Help You
Despite Jamar’s altruistic mission and partnerships with local nonprofits, Cycles Broken is a for-profit entity, and when it came to setting up his business for success, he needed some help.
That’s what led Jamar to Entrepreneur Fund, a Duluth-based Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). CNote partners with CDFIs like Entrepreneur Fund in communities across America, funding loans to small businesses and empowering local entrepreneurs like Jamar.
Entrepreneur Fund gave Jamar the capital he needed to purchase a laptop and buy QuickBooks, and the CDFI provided him with access to an accountant, as well as marketing guidance and website help. They also helped him throw a launch party with families and kids in the community. “They helped to make my business more tech-savvy and financially streamlined,” Jamar said. “It’s been a great help, and I can go to them whenever I have a question.”
Jamar says that the biggest piece of advice he’s received from Entrepreneur Fund is to contract out for help when he needs it, especially until he’s able to grow his team. “One piece of advice they gave me is to hire it out when I come across a problem that’s out of my realm,” Jamar said. “By allowing someone else to take care of it, I can get past it and continue to flourish and be profitable. I understand how much getting help can help you.”
Whereas Jamar is happy to do that in the near term, he’d like to one day grow his team so that he can have more “boots on the ground” facilitators and staff under him who can help with Cycles Broken’s growing operations and outreach. Plus, a larger team will be necessary if Jamar wants to achieve his goal for 2020: to “affect 100 businesses in a year.”
“That’s my personal goal,” Jamar said. “We want to have an effect on the graduation rate and youth entrepreneurship in the community, and being a minority-owned business that can affect the business culture in this community and have an impact is motivating. It would be nice to build my team to a point where we have a major movement.”
As Jamar continues to grow his business, his team, and his brand, his commitment to his community — especially the youth — is unwavering.
“A lot of kids are dealing with the exact same issues of poverty and lack of education as I did,” he said. “It’s not that they’re out of touch, they just don’t have the dexterity yet to navigate life. A lot of kids don’t think they’re capable of growing. A lot of adults don’t think they’re capable of growing.”
“But I’m still here, and I’ve been through so much,” Jamar said. “It was really bad being a product of my environment, but I was shown another way. I’m driven by my family and kids, and I’m able to do what I do by being fearless. I always tell people ‘there are options for happiness and fulfillment in life, and I’m here to help with that.’”