Updated June 11, 2022 - 1:48 pm
More than two years ago, Oralessa Gardner and her husband, Searvaxter, found themselves with no work and no income — joining thousands of other business owners in Southern Nevada, who were forced to temporarily close their doors because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Henderson couple had spent years building up their entertainment and artist management company, but with the entertainment industry at a standstill the pair needed to pivot.
“We had to totally restructure our company,” said Oralessa Gardner, noting the entertainment industry took longer to bounce back than other sectors. “My husband — he had to encourage me a lot. I get a shaky voice when I think about it because there was a lot of times where I wanted to give up.”
Gardner likes to say they had to keep “the hustle up” for their marketing and event-planning firm ChaseeL. It paid off because they were one of five companies to receive a grant this year from the Henderson Chamber Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce.
Grant recipients are given an office space, among other perks, at the nonprofit’s business incubator Launchpad. But this year’s recipients were greeted with another surprise — a modern and updated office.
Kelly Green, the nonprofit’s executive director, said after nearly 21 years, the state’s longest-running business incubator received a much-needed renovation.
“It was getting a little tired,” Green said. “We decided during the pandemic to raise money through our corporate sponsors and it’s through these sponsors that we were able to get these grants to the tenants … and pay for the remodel and new furniture and everything else.”
Gardner also agreed the remodel was long overdue, describing the former look as a bit “dingy.”
“It had that old 1998 kind of feel,” she said. “When they told us about the grant, and we would be in the incubator space my heart dropped…but when I came and saw (the renovation) I thought, ‘This is good. This is real good.’”
Launchpad, formerly known as the Henderson Business Resource Center, is located at 112 S. Water St., sharing the building with Wells Fargo.
The incubator serves as a one-stop shop for small businesses and entrepreneurs by offering access to business counselors, networking opportunities and help with workforce development.
There’s also a grant available to minority-owned, woman-owned or veteran-owned businesses that have been established for less than two years. It’s the same grant Gardner was awarded.
The grant, which first launched in 2016, gives recipients a private office space — fully furnished — for six months with rent and utilities covered as well as an annual Henderson Chamber membership.
It’s a welcome reprieve considering the number of obstacles small businesses are now facing such as rising operating and supply costs and worker shortages. There’s also little sign of a slowdown after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that the consumer price index in May showed the largest annual gain since December 1981, rising to 8.6 percent and beating the previous inflation record set in March of 8.5 percent.
“It’s a high fail rate for small businesses so to be able to provide the resources and be able to provide them as much help as we can possibly give them so they can succeed from an economic standpoint is amazing,” Green said.
She added with the revamped space the center was able to add two additional office suites, bringing the total number to 15 offices.
Right now, Launchpad has 14 tenants including its five new grant recipients: ChaseeL, BRGRBY, Raintree Holdings, CutNet and Golden Horse Films.
Green said its other nine tenants are companies who requested to remain in their suite after their six-month grant ended. Those tenants are able to sign a one-year lease at a below-market rate.
She said the foundation is still accepting applications on the Henderson Chamber’s website until June 30 to fill its last office suite.
“I’ve gotten a lot of calls on our units. It’s really competitive to be here,” she said. “We hope to have more grant opportunities in the future as we have more vacancies but this will make us full.”
Coming out of the pandemic, Green said the center has seen an uptick in the number of entrepreneurs seeking help.
“During COVID, you saw that big transition of people especially in hospitality that couldn’t go back to work — didn’t want to go back to work — and start getting creative about what they can do instead,” Kelly said. “And we have a number of these brand-new businesses that started as a product of that.”
One such business is BRGRBY, pronounced Burger Boy, founded last year by east Las Vegas resident Jhonatan Perez. He said if it wasn’t for the pandemic, he likely wouldn’t have taken the leap to start his own company.
The former small business banker decided to take a severance from his employer in April 2021. He finished school, pursuing a software engineering degree, and worked as a freelance web developer.
“I was using a little room in my house and never expected a year later to be at my own office on Water Street,” he said. “It’s one thing to help people open a bank account and ask for documents, but it’s totally another thing to go through the process of starting a business yourself.”
He’s looking forward to growing his business through the incubator’s networking events and use the Small Business Development Center, located in the building just steps away from his office.
Networking is key to growing, added Youth Leadership Authority founder and Executive Director Marie Tomao.
Tomao’s nonprofit is the largest tenant inside Launchpad, even having its own entrance facing Water Street. The organization started out 18 years ago as the Southern Nevada Devil Pups, a youth physical leadership camp held at Camp Pendleton, but ballooned into a nonprofit offering eight additional programs for students ages 11 to 21.
Through the incubator, Tomao was able to connect with The Gene Haas Foundation, as well as other donors, who gave the organization a financial lifeline.
“When everybody was closed down our fundraising efforts stopped,” she said. “We had an office to pay for and no way to create revenue, but we were still creating a safe space for kids to be at and Gene Haas Foundation came into our office with a COVID relief check that got us through.”
Tomao admits the organization is starting to outgrow Launchpad while acknowledging that it achieved the incubator’s goal.
“They say we’ve actually graduated from the Launchpad side to the lease side,” she said. “It’s done it’s justice. It’s done a great value. Now, we’re in existence for 18 years servicing kids all over Henderson, Boulder City. … And we wouldn’t be here had it not been for the collaborative actions of the foundation.”