With a career at the Greater Omaha Chamber spanning 15 years, Winsley Durand III has made his mark investing in others with the REACH program aimed toward small businesses.
Throughout his career, Winsley Durand III has always invested in others. Through roles with the Greater Omaha Chamber and his “intra-preneurial” venture REACH, his mission has been to apply his skills and resources to help others overcome adversity, learn the ropes and succeed in business.
Durand, REACH’S executive director, has worked for the Greater Omaha Chamber in some capacity for 15 years. Prior to his current job, he served as the chamber’s director of minority development and director of retail attraction, engaging in the group’s domestic and international business attraction efforts and military affairs activities. His wide-ranging impact on chamber efforts earned him Midlands Business Journal 40 Under 40 honors in 2008.
Since then, Durand founded REACH, an education-based capacity-building program for small and emerging businesses. It brings together many of the same tasks that were scattered through his various other roles within the organization.
“In a prior life, I worked with a lot of contractors. We had a lot of small contractors that would come to me and ask for assistance,” he said. “David Brown, chamber CEO, was talking with the superintendent of schools and chancellor of the Med Center and mayor of Omaha and they were all saying how they were having a problem finding enough contractors, especially minority contractors. [Brown] said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a guy who can help devise a plan for you.’”
ASSISTING SMALL BUSINESSES
REACH initially just brought together both sides of the contractor equation, but it soon became apparent there were knowledge gaps to be addressed among small business owners.
“Basically, a project owner or general contractor would say, ‘Give me your list of contractors,’ and they called them up and offered an opportunity,” Durand said. “However, that methodology just doesn’t work effectively.
“So, before those opportunities come up, we provide education, financial literacy, help them do credit remediation, find them access to capital, work on their bonding capabilities and ability to read plans. We offer a 10-week construction owner’s class where we have attorneys and accountants and all sorts of professional services providing education about all the things somebody needs to know to efficiently, effectively run their business. We don’t teach them how to build walls or pour floors, we assume they have that knowledge coming in. What we do is we work with them on the business side of their business.”
GIVING A CHANCE
“Winsley gives folks a chance that other people have ignored,” said Jim Reiff, executive director of the Nebraska Enterprise Fund. “He’s given those folks an opportunity to grow, to see success, expand their businesses and expand their capacity. He gives them the opportunity to grow both professionally and personally.”
The program is offered to chamber members and non-members alike and most services are free. Durand said the group’s methodology has evolved to a broader set of access points, most recently in a Spanish-language version.
“The most effective pieces we have are when people have a pain point. Where there is a specific need, we help them through that specific need,” he said. “Then we say, ‘The next time you have this come up …’, or ‘What’s your next challenge?’ and we try and put a little strategic thinking in there to help them prepare for the next thing. By helping them put in place a strategy, perhaps they are not caught behind the eight ball in the future.”
Rachel Fox, who with her husband Brent Fox owns Fox Flooring in Omaha, said Durand’s expertise through REACH had a major impact on their business.
“Winsley just opened up his door and his resources to us to be able to grow and scale our business,” she said. “One thing that stood out about him is he has very deep and rich connections and he leverages those connections to help others. He’s very open and honest and giving. Those are qualities we respect and admire.”
As for the future, Durand says there are plenty of challenges to be overcome throughout the city when it comes to entrepreneurism. He said he’s eager to apply REACH and its partners in such a way to maximize positive impact.
“There’s a collaborative nature to Omaha. People are willing to work together,” he said. “We have lots of challenges, especially in our underserved areas, but because of the size of Omaha those challenges aren’t too unwieldy. They are solvable and there are people who are willing to roll up their sleeves. Nobody in town can move a mountain, but everybody’s willing to pick up a shovel.”