The Comcast RISE (Representation, Investment, Strength and Empowerment) program, which invests in small businesses owned by women and people of color, released its documentary, The Road To RISE, highlighting four entrepreneurs who are giving back to their communities.
The Comcast RISE program was created in 2020 to invest in the success of minority and female businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program serves this group of business owners with much-needed aid through consulting, media, and technical assistance. Moreover, it provides these companies with a $10,000 grant to improve operations and build other resources to help them thrive.
Hosted by model and entrepreneur, Robin Harris, The Road To RISE is an inspiring documentary that follows the journeys of four Comcast RISE grant recipients seeking to bolster their communities. The film is set across four different cities, revealing how these underrepresented entrepreneurs found success. The following are their stories of beating the odds by overcoming adversity and embracing their aspirations.
Brianna Hairlson, Bri’s Dance Place (Merrillville, IN)
Brianna Hairlson began dancing at the age of 7 and never stopped. The Howard University graduate and mother of three launched Bri’s Dance Place in 2012 as a two-day dance camp in a local church. Her perseverance paid off in 2019 when she officially opened her independent dance studio.
“Dance has been my life since the age of seven and going off to Howard I knew I was exposed to the arts. I got my dance minor there. I saw beautiful studios, but I knew that back home we didn’t have that or they were focused on age-appropriate choreography, costumes and music,” Hairlson said. “So, I knew I had to bring that back home, the children, just being a light in this community and exposure is the great equalizer.”
Bri’s Dance Place offers a litany of classes, including traditional ballet, modern ballet, tap dancing, hip-hop classes, and more. Additionally, Hairlson makes it a point to uplift and encourage her students with positive statements on the walls of the studio and by beginning each class by having her students say statements of affirmation.
Hairlson’s mom, who introduced her to dance, died before she had the opportunity to see the opening of Hairlson’s studio. However, the entrepreneur says that her spirit is alive in the studio.
“She ended up passing in December 2019 after I had my grand opening,” Hairlson says. “She never walked in this studio, never saw it, but she’s here. She’s in me and I actually think that through that process, because grief is a process, it prepared me for the pandemic.”
Stefanie Sysounthone, Pinky Swear Studio (Chicago, IL)
Sysounthone left her corporate job and a steady paycheck to start the Pinky Swear Studio, a Chicago-based studio focused on design installations for special events and businesses, including visual merchandising for storefronts, office lobbies, and pop-up events.
“I decided to quit because I did not think that being at my corporate job and contributing to the household financially was worth it mentally,” she said. “It was a hard decision but an easy decision. It was hard because when you live your entire life working for money and knowing that paycheck was going to come every other Friday, you don’t have to worry because you have job security. Then you make the decision to lose that job security [and] to give up that nice financial cushion you’ve had for a while.”
One of the biggest reasons Sysounthone was able to pursue her dreams was the support of her husband, James Beesley III, who is used to working without a boss and a steady paycheck. Sysounthone believes the couple’s entrepreneurial spirit will rub off on their daughter, Theodora, and if she chooses that path, Sysounthone will be ready to give her daughter some solid advice
“I personally would give her the advice that failure is going to happen, and you need to embrace it and handle it as a learning opportunity,” said Sysounthone. “Nobody’s perfect and you have to fail in order to get it right, in order to learn and to be better as a person. Not just for building a business.”
Shawn Manley, Manley’s Notary Service (Detroit, MI)
Manley has spent his life serving and mentoring the city of Detroit, while working for one of the city’s big three automotive companies. When his kidney disease put a pause on Manley’s active lifestyle, he didn’t let that stop him and continued to help his community by starting a notary business from his home.
“I was sitting at home one day and I was always an active person. So, I’m sitting in this house and I’m bored…What can I do? So, I began to think, and I said, “You know I used to watch my dad’s friend notarize; maybe I’ll become a notary,’” said Manley. “While I did that I was still working in the community, still doing what I was able to do. I was ill, but I still did it and today I’m still doing it.”
Although Manley receives multiple dialysis treatments from his home daily, he continues to provide for Detroit’s residents in multiple ways, including offering free notary services for those who can’t afford to pay him.
“In the community where I live, I noticed a lot of people don’t have a lot of income. I have done it for free just because I can help somebody in my community and people always say you have a business, you’re here to make money. Yeah, I’m here to make money but I’m also here to help people. I have a strong sense of that.”
Hector Nuñez, Wooder Ice (Philadelphia, PA)
Hector Nuñez is the creator and owner of Wooder Ice, a digital and social platform that writes, shoots, and edits engaging and positive content about entrepreneurs in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia native started the platform to showcase and celebrate the positivity of his hometown and its entrepreneurs.
“I wanted to be something that was Philly-centric but also hyper-local to Philly because we’re hyper-local, and I spelled it phonetically to keep the accent alive, because here we pronounce it wooder not water,” Nuñez told Harris.
Additionally, Nuñez wanted to control the narrative, showing the people of color and entrepreneurs who are doing great things and are looking to make the city of brotherly love a better place.
These four entrepreneurs are not just business owners, but they also serve as mentors and activists within their communities to ensure growth and support for the residents who live there. All four are part of something bigger than themselves, serving the places they call home.