East St. Louis native spurs entrepreneurship
Running a business is in Devon Moody-Graham’s blood.
Blame her parents.
Her dad, Robert Moody, has been a cobbler in East St. Louis for 50 years. He’s been at it so long he’s got the nuances of seasonal foot traffic down to a science. Her mom, Dorothy Moody, is a cosmetologist so dedicated to her work she once refused to stop cutting a client’s hair mid-appointment despite the contractions that signaled Devon’s impending birth.
So it should be no surprise Moody-Graham is in business for herself, too. A business consultant, she owns The Biz Spot, an incubator with office space in St. Louis, and also works with East St. Louis District 189 students and students in other schools on both sides of the river to build their interest in entrepreneurship.
Moody-Graham says she offers the consulting people need to successfully run a business in their community. As for the businesses owners themselves, “the talent is here,” she says. They just need some help.
Q: What do you do?
A: “I give myself the title of social entrepreneur. I’m an entrepreneur at heart with a concentration in economic development and helping those mom and pop businesses, those small businesses, to develop.”
Q: What’s your background? How did you get to where you are?
A: “My background is in marketing. I’m from East St. Louis, graduated from East St. Louis Senior High School in 2001. I went to the University of Illinois in Champaign and majored in consumer and textile marketing and came back here and got my MBA at the University of Phoenix. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My dad owns a shoe repair shop. He’s been a cobbler for 50 years. My mom is a cosmetologist. They’re very invested in their businesses. I’ve been around businesses all my life. I’ve always been interested in business. So as I learned more about business, I saw that there are a lot of people who have businesses but they don’t know how to run them, they just really know their craft.”
Q: Talk about The Biz Spot. What’s your goal with that venture?
A: “The Biz Spot will be open this fall. It started out, I thought, as a need for a business center. I really knew there is a need for (a business center in East St. Louis). Things haven’t worked out just as of yet but I’m not giving up. I know I’m going to start a center on this side. But I had a great opportunity and space available to get a center on the St. Louis side. What I’ll be doing there is cultivating businesses. So we’re dedicated to having a location where you have the resources you need — be it marketing, legal, payroll, HR, — to grow your business. I want it to be a one-stop shop with value ... I know a lot of talented people who have started businesses but because they didn't have all those components, they weren’t able to be successful. Now I’ve learned a lot. In business, you win some you lose some, but you learn. That’s the biggest thing. Some people like to make the mistakes on their own and that’s fine. But it’s really my job to give the information they need to move forward faster.
Q: One of your priorities is to help businesses develop in economically depressed areas. Why is that important to you?
A: “It’s so important because when I think about business, I’m coming from a home where whether my dad had customers affected his bottom line. So when you think of businesses as entities that affect real people, real lives, it made me really passionate about it. And coming from East St. Louis, it was once booming. And now we’re at a state where it’s not that the talent is gone. The capital is gone but the talent is here. So if the talent is here and all that’s needed is expertise, it could be booming again. It’s really about access to resources.”
Q: You also help students learn more about business. In what ways do you do that?
A: “I’m heavily involved in high schools, in the (Career Technical Education) departments here in East St. Louis and in schools in St. Louis. I’ve also taken training with the ITEN, the IT Entrepreneur Network of St. Louis, so I know how to help people incorporate tech into their business. Then I just finished a five-week program with Upward Bound, where we had students create product- and service-based businesses. The students were able to apply and understand the things they learned in class.”
Q: Do you feel like your entrepreneurial education efforts help fill a gap in students’ education in a time of increased focus on standardized testing?
A: “I definitely do. I know they had standardized tests when I was in school but these days it seems like they’re always testing. I think it does take away from that learning time, the time that they could be creative, time that they could actually apply some of the things they have learned. A business is a solution. When you get students to learn that businesses are created as solutions to problems, it opens their eyes to a new world, to creativity and to applying some of the things they’ve learned in class. Then they’ll know, ‘Oh, it did really matter that I did well on my math test. It did really matter that I did well in chemistry.’ It’s making sure our students know these things are important and we’re not just pulling them out of the air.”
Q: If you’re able to get a business center in East St. Louis, how meaningful will that be for you?
A: “It will probably be up there with the day I received a proclamation from the city of East St. Louis. I love where I’m from, the school district made me. My parents, my teachers, my friends. This really is an area that helped to cultivate me, so it’s only right for me to have a center where I can help to bring back economic development. If we don’t bring those things back, the city will continue to be in the state that it’s in. We’ve had some great things over the last 10 years but there’s still so much to be done. I want this to be a place that once you graduate, you come back home because there’s something for you to do. If I can have that anchor center here, to help grow those businesses, it will bring jobs, we can have more of a tax base. Taxes can go down and people will actually want to buy more homes here. It’s a beautiful city. I would love to see The Biz Spot here.”
- Job: Business consultant. You can find her on Facebook under The Biz Spot.
- Mission: Spur development and the entrepreneurial spirit in her hometown of East St. Louis and elsewhere.