Fall 2010 Issue


Hot Diggity Dog

Barry’s Entrepreneurship Institute steps up to help a blind Miami resident open her own business

Vogene Delva, aka ‘Candy Lady,’ serves up delicious hot dogs from her stand inside the Revelation Marketplace in South Miami-Dade County.

Even though she can’t see the hot grill’s sizzle, she can hear it. Even though she can’t see the plump, $3-frank, she can taste it. And even though she can’t see her shiny, stainless steel hotdog stand, she can feel pride and joy.

Miami resident Voygene Delva, 66, lost her eyesight more than a decade ago due to complications from diabetes. But today, because of an entrepreneurship program at Barry University, she is the owner of her own business – Granny Snacks, Inc.

“You can’t let anything keep you down,” said Delva, who insists the business would not have become a reality without the help of her two “angels” – Director of Barry’s Entrepreneurial Institute Dr. Philip Mann and Associate Director Rose McClung. The institute is designed to help increase the number of minority-owned businesses, create jobs and expand existing enterprises.

It was not just writing a business plan; it was empowering a person with passion to achieve a goal. It is fulfilling to see the impact of our work.

The daughter of two Mississippi sharecroppers, Delva worked cleaning airplane cabins. After she lost her sight, she tried starting her own business but lacked financial resources. Several banks and government agencies refused to help her write a proposal or apply for a loan to start up her business, she said, and when one agency finally did consent, they requested a $1,000 deposit to begin the process.

“It was a long road,” Delva said, “until we went to the gymnasium in Goulds.”

The gym is one of a dozen sites across Miami-Dade County where Mann and McClung, as part of The Barry University’s Institute for Community and Economic Development (BICED), help thousands of fledgling entrepreneurs with financial advice, grant applications and business plans to start their own businesses. Every week, the duo takes to the streets and set-up shop in community centers, such as the Dade County Goulds Gymnasium, in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods.

“We walked in and met Dr. Mann and Rose. After hearing that they could possibly help us with grants for people wanting to start their own business, she was very excited,” said Delva’s granddaughter, Yoshika Simmons.

Today, Delva and Simmons set up inside the Revelation Marketplace in Naranja, a blue-collar neighborhood in South Miami-Dade County. Within the indoor market, shop owners peddle low-cost jewelry, clothing, cell phones and flowers. Delva competes with a pizzeria and deli, but has quickly found her niche hawking dogs and an added selection of candy - Airheads, Nerds and Bubblicious.

“They come right up to me asking for their choice of sweets,” says Delva, whose younger customers call her the “Candy Lady.”

One of 16 grandchildren, Simmons drives her grandmother to the hot dog stand, helps her to track inventory and manage finances. Because Delva avoids the hot grill, Simmons also helps hand out the hot dogs smothered in chili, cheese, ketchup, mustard, onions and relish.

“I focus myself around her because she raised me and I would go to the end of the earth for her,” Simmons said.

She’s not the only one who gives of her time and energy to help out. Adrian Strong, a 35-year-old, self-proclaimed entrepreneur works Wednesday to Saturday – the days the hot dog stand is open – setting up, grilling the franks, stocking the cooler with drinks, running the cash register and helping Delva get around the market place.

“I do it because I want to help her make her dreams come true; make it a profitable, successful business and maybe even grow it into a chain one day,” said Strong, whose father, James, is also blind. James Strong met Delva when the two attended computer and other daily living skills classes at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

The business proposal was also a labor of love by several BICED staffers. Selen Turner, a recent MBA graduate of Barry’s Andreas School of Business, did market research, calculated overhead costs and helped to write the proposal for the hot dog stand.

“It was not just writing a business plan; it was empowering a person with passion to achieve a goal,” said Turner, who is now a performance development manager with South Florida Urban Ministries, a non-profit organization. “It is fulfilling to see the impact of our work.”

That spirit of philanthropy is what School of Business Dean Dr. Tomislav Mandakovic says he wants other students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and friends of Barry to know about.

“We view the achievement of Mrs. Delva not only as a reward for her individual, indomitable spirit but also as an illustration on how a caring, values-guided institution can give back to the community,” Mandakovic said. “Being close to some very real and touching issues, the institute brings back a sense of urgency to all of us in the School of Business.”

Marilyn Millsap works for the Miami district office for the Florida Division of Blind Services and worked as Delva’s senior case manager for the proposal. She credits the proposal’s approval to its “eye-catching” features, such as the sharp graphics, organization and overall professional style.

“It’s definitely not something that happens often,” Millsap said. “As far as I know, only two to three proposals have been approved in the last three years in Miami.”

Mann and McClung started the Entrepreneurial Institute 30 years ago, and have worked in conjunction with several local South Florida colleges and universities before starting at Barry in 2009.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing that Barry can provide a service to communities that enables a blind individual to start a small business,” Mann said. “We pay so much attention to large businesses that we need to take that attention to smaller start-ups that have special needs; people have great plans and do-able businesses that need a support system. That kind of system is very much in keeping with Barry’s mission to include students in community service and volunteerism.”