Erin Igleheart and DeAndrea Byrd with Start_ME

Program Director for Start:ME Erin Igleheart is in the studio for today’s episode of Atlanta Real Estate Forum Radio, along with Start:ME graduate and owner of Tutu Maniac DeAndrea Byrd. Joined by co-hosts Carol Morgan and Todd Schnick, the group gathers to discuss the Start:ME program and its impact on its participants on this Around Atlanta segment of Radio.

Igleheart has a background in finance and consulting but has always had a deep love for communities and a respect for the people who make a community strong and vibrant. Igleheart began with Start:ME over four years ago as a project manager and transitioned to program director about a year ago.

Start:ME is a free small business training program that helps to connect potential business owners with others, while also giving them the tools they need to succeed to build a business. The 14-session experience offers training by Emory’s Goizueta Business School and has helped to accomplish:

  • 257 small businesses served
  • 79% of alumni actively operating
  • 75+ Start:ME mentors
  • 556 jobs created
  • 30 brick and mortar stores
  • $11.7 million in annual revenue
  • 69% led by women
  • 84% led by people of color

Byrd is the owner of Tutu Maniac, a business that specializes in children’s birthday parties. The parties range in theme from painting parties to tea parties to tutu parties for girls ages three to 11. Byrd graduated from Start:ME last year and was the recipient of a grant.

Start:ME Tutu Maniac

Start:ME grew out of research conducted by Dr. Peter Roberts at Emory. He noticed there was a significant gap in the number of micro-businesses per capita in underserved communities. This means fewer people are opening and operating local small businesses.

“We know that entrepreneurs need three things in abundance to really be successful,” said Igleheart. “They need business knowledge, they need supportive networks that they can draw upon and they need capital to get started. We also believe that entrepreneurial talent, passion and spirit are equally distributed across the population, but access to some of that knowledge, networking and capital is not.”

Because of these gaps, Start:ME was created to serve communities around metro Atlanta and help its members become business owners. The organization partners with local nonprofits to build programs to serve local needs and spur entrepreneurs. Start:ME also sets up its participants to succeed in a variety of economic clients, even in the midst of a global pandemic.

Byrd opened up her store-front shop right at the beginning of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Because of the social distancing and self-isolating protocols enacted to help slow the spread, brick and mortar businesses were taking a hit. Byrd quickly adjusted to the circumstances and created a party in a box! This product offered Byrd’s same creative party planning expertise in a socially distanced new packaging. The boxes include party supplies and ideas for the perfect get-together.

Over the course of the three-month program, Start:ME is centered around building business knowledge and creating connections. Throughout the process, students meet with both customers and competitors to gather insight and better prepare themselves for life after the program.

Start:ME Session

Start:ME offers an entrepreneurial journey through 14 informative, hands-on sessions. The sessions start off with courses titled Kick-Off, IMPROV & Introductions and Business Storytelling and end with Small Business Tradeshow, Practice Loan Interview and Pitch Night.

“One of the best things I got from Start:ME is the connections and the friendships,” said Byrd.“I’m still friends with people I met in Start:ME and I still speak to the mentors.”

After the 14 sessions, the Start:ME team continues to support its alumni with mentor office hours, workshops, pop-up markets socials and more. After graduation, Start:ME strives to continue to help businesses grow, evolve and thrive.

To learn more about Start:Me or to find out how to apply, visit www.startmeatl.org. Also, be sure to listen to the full interview above.

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Georgia Residential Mortgage Licensee, License #22564. NMLS ID #6606. Subject to borrower and property qualifications. Not all applicants will qualify. New American Funding and Start:ME are not associated. Click here to view the terms and conditions of products mentioned during the show. Corporate office 14511 Myford Rd., Suite 100, Tustin, CA 92780. Phone: (800) 450-2010. (April/2021)


New American Funding is a family-owned mortgage lender with a servicing portfolio of over 123,000 loans for $30.4 billion, 198 branches, and about 3,100 employees. The company offers several niche loan products and has made Inc. 5000’s list of Fastest-Growing Companies in America six times. It has a state-of-the-art career training facility and develops innovative technology, including the GoGo LO mobile application. For more information, visit www.branch.newamericanfunding.com/Atlanta.

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