During my first visit and discussion with seven members of Destiny Family Church and Shelter, Andre said, “Entrepreneurship is everywhere in the homeless community.” Andre not only collects and sells scrap metal but constantly tries different ventures to earn a living. That conversation led me to start NANO and turn Destiny Shelter into NANO’s first business incubator.
NANO—Navigating Access to New Opportunities—is a social initiative I started to empower unhoused (homeless) individuals like Andre with tools of entrepreneurship and a path to escape homelessness.
NANO uses a three-pronged approach: launch business incubators in shelters where entrepreneurship workshops are conducted, connect unhoused entrepreneurs with local businesses for mentorship, and fund unhoused entrepreneurs with necessary startup equipment.
To date, NANO has empowered over 100 unhoused entrepreneurs to start their businesses, launched business incubators at several shelters throughout St. Louis, conducted over 40 entrepreneurship workshops, and raised and disbursed over $45000 for seed equipment such as lawnmowers, power-washers, sewing machines, jewelry-kits, and laptops.
During the pandemic, I conducted COVID safety workshops in shelters, helped existing NANO businesses pivot, and launched “COVID-19 Relief for the Unhoused.” This was a joint effort between the community and unhoused entrepreneurs to sew masks for shelters and encampments around St. Louis. In total, NANO donated over 1600 masks.