Ascend National Cohort participants

Holmes Center program supports BIPOC entrepreneurs

Thursday, April 11, 2024

By Charly Haley


Chau Nguyen became an entrepreneur 30 years ago because she’d “been fired from literally every single job” she’d ever had.

“I found out that I’m unemployable,” she said. “But the cool thing about life is that when it throws you a curveball, it also throws you a blessing.”

Nguyen formed CHAOS Supplies, based in Phoenix, which sells safety glasses and other personal protective equipment, as well as other chemical and safety supplies.

Even after 30 years of running her own business, Nguyen wanted an opportunity to learn and grow. So, she applied to the Ascend Management Education Program. In turn, that connected her to the Carlson School’s Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship.

Dave Warford, ’69 BSB, and Chau Nguyen
Ascend National Cohort participant Chau Nguyen with her business coach Dave Warford, ’69 BSB

Ascend is a national network of programs that support entrepreneurs of color with access to market opportunities and business education, funded by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The local program, Ascend Twin Cities, started in 2020 and supports Minnesota-based, BIPOC-owned businesses. It’s run by the Holmes Center in partnership with the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (Meda). The Holmes Center provides program participants with top-notch educational resources, including business coaches.

Based on their success with Ascend Twin Cities, the Holmes Center and Meda were invited last year to participate in the intensive Ascend National Cohort program. The 6-month program concluded with a weekend of educational sessions and presentations at the Carlson School on April 4–6. Participants came from across the country, including Nguyen.

Program participants were each matched with a business coach, and, as a new feature, the Holmes Center also brought in Carlson MBA students to serve as resources for the companies.

Headshot of John Stavig
John Stavig

“It’s been wonderful to get to know each of these talented and successful business owners,” said John Stavig, managing director of the Holmes Center. “It’s also been a ton of fun over the last six months engaging with the volunteer coaches who’ve been meeting every two or three weeks with their teams.”

“The MBA fellows have contributed a great deal to the experience,” he added, “and I’ve heard from a number of them that this has been one of the most valuable experiences of their MBA career, to be able to work directly with a business owner and help them to make tangible improvements in their business.”

Nguyen spoke highly of her experience in the program, and especially of her coach Dave Warford, ’69 BSB.

“This program helps me and our team stay focused on the goals in our 3-year plan,” Nguyen said. “As a small business, you’re always working in it, but this program helps you get out of the day-to-day and into doing the long-term strategy, which is going to help our business grow. You have to look forward, and programs like this definitely help you strategically work on your business.”

Learn more about Ascend Twin Cities. Minnesota-based businesses can apply for the 2024 Ascend Twin Cities cohort.