Last month, Entrepreneurs Academy 101 owner Brenda Myers sat in a crowded auditorium at the Capitol Neighborhood Association Center (411 Broad St.) in Jackson, Miss., among students, their friends and family members. Prominent community members from the capital city such as W.K. Kellogg Foundation Director of Policy and Advocacy Dr. Rhea Bishop, Mississippi Rep. Zakiya Summers, Center for Social Entrepreneurship Executive Director Shante Crockett and Systems Companies Chief Executive Officer Toni Cooley.
One by one, students presented their visions for businesses they believed could shape the landscape of Jackson and beyond. Myers watched as her mentee, a young woman named Charresa Johnson, took to the podium with eyes full of self-assurance as she pitched her proposal for a business called the Magnolia School of Decorum, which she designed around teaching etiquette to children in Jackson.
Johnson weaved a tale to the audience of her days listening to her grandmother, who taught her how to properly make a bed and set a table and who instilled in her an appreciation for manners and social grace. These lessons held true for Johnson even years later, and her proposed business would honor the values her loved one bestowed to her.
Myers noted that Johnson had a tendency to laugh nervously during tense situations when she first began to mentor the aspiring entrepreneur. However, as she spoke of the importance that etiquette training could have for young entrepreneurs like herself in the future, she masterfully delivered her pitch with great professionalism.
“When Charresa spoke about her business plan, we were all floored,” Myers said. “She didn’t stumble over her words or stutter, and her confidence spoke volumes. When she was finished, she looked right at me and thanked me for all I had done to help her and the other students gathered there that I had taught. That kind of experience is what makes all the difference for me.”
‘Encouraging Entrepreneurship in Younger Generations’
Johnson is one of many students Myers has taught through her own business, Entrepreneurs Academy 101, which she opened in Jackson in April 2022 as an entity under the nonprofit Entrepreneurs Academy 101 Foundation. The academy is an online school for individuals, both students and adults, who want to learn the fundamentals for starting their own businesses. The foundation offers scholarship opportunities for high-school students enrolling in the program.
Courses cover topics such as time management, social-media marketing, business networking, writing effective business plans, budgeting for a small business, charting individual strengths and weaknesses, having an entrepreneur mindset, and more.
Students and others planning to enroll can watch a webinar introducing the program and its options and can take courses individually, as a whole for the entire curriculum, or as part of bundles. Through the foundation, Myers also plans to establish a computer lab to allow students who may not have computers of their own at home to participate in the program.
“Encouraging entrepreneurship in younger generations is important because there are so many talented young people who develop dreams and aspirations and go off to college to pursue them but never get what they were looking for in a career,” Myers said. “I created Entrepreneurs Academy 101 to provide an accessible way for high-school students (and others) to learn skills, hone a craft and turn a talent into success, even for those who may not be able to attend college.”
Myers’ first lessons in entrepreneurship came from her parents, who ran a part-time business of their own customizing and selling antique cars after her father retired. She did not, however, pursue her own entrepreneurship journey until later in her life. Myers had been working for the Butler Snow law firm in Jackson when the stock-market crash of 2009 hit, leading many businesses nationwide to close or downsize to stay afloat. Butler Snow was one such business, and Myers ended up as one of a number of employees the firm had to lay off.
Having received her severance pay from Butler Snow, Myers decided to go into business for herself. In 2010, she opened Journey Insurance Solutions LLC, a life-insurance agency that provides mortgage-protection, life-insurance, employee-benefit, and final-expense services for individuals and businesses. However, she still was not quite satisfied and wanted to find a way to pass on what she had learned about planning and starting a business to others.
“After the crash I had to plan and pivot quickly on what I wanted to do with my life,” Myers said. “I wanted to impress on others the importance of having a plan and make sure other aspiring entrepreneurs didn’t have to go through what I went through in those first days—and for young people to have an alternative to the usual 9-to-5 work experience.”
‘Wearing All the Hats’
Myers took the first steps toward establishing Entrepreneurs Academy 101 in January 2022 by using a program called Teachable to create online entrepreneurship courses and to launch her own website.
In addition to her work with the academy, Myers participates in a mentoring program called iVillage Legacy Project at the Center for Social Entrepreneurship on Grand Avenue in West Jackson. It was through this program that she met Charresa Johnson after Dr. Kimberly Hilliard, director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship, introduced them.
“After entering the mentorship program at the center and learning about Entrepreneurship Academy 101, I felt drawn to it right away,” Johnson said. Myers’ foundation provided Johnson with a scholarship to take two of its courses, which helped her prepare for the pitch she made on Aug. 1, 2022.
“At first I had know idea how to make a business plan to make Magnolia School of Decorum become a reality, but Ms. Myers helped me expand on what knowledge I did have and taught me how to find resources here in Jackson for things like grants, certified public accountants to work with and even good local colleges,” the student continued.
“She stayed in contact with me throughout the whole course, making sure I got whatever help I needed and breaking down things like personal development, public speaking, budgeting and financing in ways I could easily understand,” Johnson added.
Myers has published two books on entrepreneurship, “Becoming an Entrepreneur: Learn How to Start and Grow Your Business,” “The Productive Entrepreneur: The Secrets to Getting Everything Done,” as well as an electronic book on life insurance titled “Making the Decision to Purchase Life Insurance.”
After her father passed away in 2018, Myers moved to Jackson from Madison to care for her mother. The entrepreneur has two children, Danielle Bryant and Demetrius Bryant II, and four grandchildren.
“As a business owner, I know that owning your own business means that you wear all of the hats rather than just one when you work at a company,” Myers said. “You have to be your own bookkeeper, salesperson and repair person, and anything that needs doing is on you.”
“I feel like I always had an entrepreneurial spirit and had it in me to wear those hats, but for a long time I couldn’t bring it to fruition,” she added. “Now, I feel like offering my program in Jackson has helped generate excitement and momentum that will get people to take interest and work for our community to make it a better place.”
For more information or to enroll in Entrepreneurship Academy 101, visit entrepreneursacademy101.com.