Correction: Due to a reporter’s error, this story has been edited to reflect the proper amount of money—$2,500, not $1,000—winners from The Forge receive.
When Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose made the trip to Marion on Monday morning, he was greeted by local business leaders eager to share their stories.
For the hour long conversation, LaRose discussed the importance of entrepreneurism and economic development in Marion with the Forge Business Incubator. LaRose said businesses in Ohio throughout the pandemic have been resilient and the statistics back that up. Though LaRose said Ohio saw a decline in new businesses opening last March, that trend has since been on an upwards trajectory with Ohio marking 20,000 new businesses opened in last April alone.
The Forge, which was started in 2017, aims to transform ideas from hopeful entrepreneurs into fleshed out business plans through a three-part, seven-week course hosted by Marion Technical College.
This three-part course at MTC ends with participants presenting their business plan in a competition where one person is crowned the winner and given $2,500 in support. To showcase how Marion is continuing to support these local entrepreneurs, past winners such as Brooke Olson, winner in 2020, and Rachel McCall, winner in 2017, shared their story, business plan and ideas for the future.
Though Olson’s spends her days as assistant vice president and a wealth advisor at Alluvial Wealth Management, a private wealth management company in Marion, she’s also the CEO of her recently opened business venture, Ability Vending.
Ability Vending is a vending machine restocking service that employs those with autism. The idea was born after Olson’s many years raising Amick, her son who has autism. She said she had three goals in mind when trying to find employment opportunities for him: a job that he loved, a routine schedule to keep him consistently working and flexible hours that didn’t require him in a workplace from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Ability Vending was the answer to what she was looking for. Not only does her son restock vending machines, he also helps track inventory, shop for products, collect the money and he gets paid all while he’s doing it. The idea has since taken off and Olson said she’s been contacted by other cities, such as Powell or Cincinnati, to set up the service there.
“He’s learning all of these skills that are practical in work and his job, but also for his future in independent living,” Olson said.
With her winnings, Rachel started The Sweada Mae Art Cafe, an activity based art store where patrons can paint and design various products. After her husband, Ryan McCall, president of MTC, visited an event where many investors told him they were interested in her idea, Rachel knew she had to act quickly.
Thanks to the lessons she learned at The Forge, she said she was able to do so.
“My whole intention with the classes was just to go in and learn and absorb; like how does this process even work?” she recalled.
Even though she has a background in marketing, she said she was still able to learn more about it through these courses. And through these efforts, she was able to establish connections with agencies like the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce to better guide her through her process of opening a brick-and-mortar location.
Once the conversation portion of the event was finished, LaRose was given a tour of the new downtown location for MTC with Michael Augenstein, director of workforce solutions with MTC, and Ryan McCall. During the tour LaRose stopped at one of the vending machines serviced by Ability Vending to snag a protein bar for the road.
The tour highlighted the many different ways MTC is utilizing its new space. This includes rooms that are available for rent at set pricing amounts, or a room dedicated to the Aspire Program.
The Aspire Program is a free service at MTC for students looking to improve their basic math, reading or writing skills so they can be more successful in their college courses. These class sizes range from small group to individual studies with the students ultimately setting the pace of the class. Aspire has become an option for those looking to prepare for the High School Equivalency test and obtain their GED.
Currently, these Aspire courses are offered at MTC on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Additionally, the downtown location for MTC is offering these courses on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. More sites are expected to re-open as more in-person classes return to MTC.
Story by Mitch Hooper | (740)-244-9935 | [email protected] | @_MH16 on Twitter