By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Desiree Saddler is one of 15 small business owners selected to participate in a local business accelerator program.

“Oh my gosh, it has been such a blessing,” she said. “Definitely changed my paradigm about the way that I think about my business from a much larger capacity than where I was.”

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The nonprofit initiative was launched in August to help small businesses owned by women and people of color.

“Who need access to capital, who need access to new market opportunities such as procurement in order to grow their businesses,” Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, who manages the program, said.

Ascend Los Angeles connects business owners with one-on-one consulting and gives them guidance on business loans and making pitch videos. The business owners also take a 12-week management education program in partnership with Loyola Marymount University.

“The other major element is getting access to a contract, so being able to get with a municipality, a  transportation agency,” Thrash-Ntuk said.

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Of those participating in the program, Thrash-Ntuk said 75% have submitted bids for new contracts and 25% have won those bids.

“Access is number one,” Saddler said. “As a small business, we get the door slammed in our face constantly.”

But beyond the business aspects of the program, Saddler said her cohort has become an incredible support system — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made owning a small business even more challenging.

“We were all diverse and had some of the very same challenges and I just felt like I wasn’t alone anymore,” she said.

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Ascend LA has opened up applications for its 2021 cohort and is doubling the number of small businesses they will help to 30. Those interested in learning more about the program or applying can do so online. The deadline for applications is April 14.