With help from alumni and mentors, the 2024 class of Goizueta Business School’s Start:ME accelerator learned firsthand the importance of leaning into a network of fellow entrepreneurs who can offer encouragement and advice.

The Clarkston cohort of Goizueta's 2024 Start:ME accelerator program
Clarkston cohort

Businesses in Start:ME’s three cohorts—Clarkston, East Lake, and Southside Atlanta—celebrated their accomplishments together in a graduation ceremony this spring. Over 14 weeks and beyond, owners of 50 ventures built lasting bonds with fellow business owners, fellow Start:ME alumni, and nearly 70 volunteer mentors who helped them develop business plans and strategies.

The East Lake cohort of Goizueta's 2024 Start:ME accelerator program
East Lake cohort

“Yes, you want to exit with a business plan. Yes, you want to exit with a strategy and financials. But a big part of it is the intangibles of building relationships with all of the people in the room,” says program director Erin Igleheart.

During the pandemic, Start:ME sessions took place virtually. In-person sessions have gradually returned since then. However, some virtual programming remains as a convenience for busy professionals.

The Southside cohort of Goizueta's 2024 Start:ME accelerator program
Southside cohort

Start:ME regularly surveys participants to design programming, and founders are eager to sit down with mentors. That’s where we make some of the best connections, Igleheart says. About 60 percent of sessions took place in person this year. That includes key events such as the kickoff, business plan pitches, and trade show—where founders can introduce themselves to capital providers and small-business organizations.

Diverse Ventures Offer Support

Three founders with grant checks

Program leaders also announced the recipients of $45,000 in peer-selected grants and $3,000 in awards at graduation. New this year is the resilience award. The prize recognizes the most-resilient entrepreneur in each cohort and comes with a $500 award. Supporters provided the capital that made the program possible this year: Bank of America, Delta Community Credit Union, Regions Foundation, Target, Truist Foundation. The program is delivered in partnership with trusted community-based nonprofits, including East Lake Foundation, Focused Community Strategies, Friends of Refugees, and Purpose Built Schools Atlanta.

Of the 50 ventures graduating in the 2024 class—chosen from some 250 applicants—84 percent are incorporated. Eighty-six percent are led by women, 78 percent by entrepreneurs of color, and 22 percent by immigrants.

As a group, the ventures employ two full-time and 43 part-time employees in addition to the founders. Total revenue for the group was $763,227 in 2023, with 82 percent booking revenues.

A quarter of the startups this year were in food and beverage—each with a unique niche, such as tea infusions, seasonings, condiments, and specialty cuisines. Companies in professional services, health, beauty, and fitness; healthcare and social assistance; arts, culture, and creative; and education and tutoring together made up 62 percent of the startups.

Creativity Drives Start:ME Entrepreneurs

One of Goizueta's 2024 Start:ME program graduates poses with her certificate.

Igleheart says creativity is often a driver for entrepreneurs and leads to interesting business ideas. One business owner, a former preschool teacher, creates puppets, inclusive musical videos, and live shows to educate young children. She even sang her final pitch—a Start:ME first.

One venture is creating tools to help students and teachers understand and integrate artificial intelligence into the classroom. This year’s class also included two woodworkers. One makes heirloom furniture out of wood she obtains from felled city trees. Another, who also teaches engineering at a local school, shares her woodworking knowledge with her students.

“Every year I’m amazed. There are always new businesses that absolutely never would have crossed my mind,” Igleheart says. “And the passion that entrepreneurs bring into the room is not only energizing but very heartwarming.”

Start:ME Alumni Are Staunch Supporters

Start:ME alumni also serve as volunteers and mentors: They have made the same kinds of sacrifices necessary to put time and energy into the program—both remotely and in person—while also working on their businesses. Current participants seek out alumni support especially on neighborhood night, when they step up to present their businesses to a live audience and engage in a group Q&A, often for the first time.

“Entrepreneurs make for really great mentors because they understand what it’s like to operate every aspect of a business. They understand what it’s like to start from scratch and build it up and invest in yourself. You really attach yourself emotionally to the business,” Igleheart says.

As their ranks grow, Start:ME is creating more opportunities for alumni to connect with community partners and with each other, from social gatherings to Emory Executive Education and other continuing education classes. Recent offerings include a five-week corporate governance course that helps current cohort members and alumni get their legal house in order and a five-session deep dive into digital marketing, led by Nicole Soltau of Goizueta’s MS in Business Analytics program.

Start:ME Peer-Selected Grants


Meagan Naraine – Culturally Relevant Science
Holly Juras – Go Play Shoes
Angela Weadon – Music Therapy for Autism


Ashley Jefferson – Nguzo Babies
Sheila Tillers-Tooks and Toshia Tiller – CornbreadSisters
Lindsay and Nebi Berhane – Sugar Loaf ATL


Trudy Calder Washington – Recovery Pops
Tinsley Curry – Tinsley Curry OT
Tonya Brown – Tonluvs2styl


Kesha Phillips – Soulful Rubber Media
Beth White – ATLWoodDesign
Jeremiah Long – Immutable Access (AI for Kids)


Maya Norman – Steeped & Twisted
Whitney Marshall – Whitney Marshall Coaching
Sioux Greaux – Sole Renew

Peer-of-the-Year Awards – $500

Mia Edwards – HARMONIC Therapeutic & Healing Services
Marilyn Latham – The Reiki Coach
Niki (Noushin) Gavahi – Knead to Savor

Resilience Awards – $500

Liudmyla Nimash – Art World Decor
April Payne – Styles by Aprillove
Suzuko Hisata – Candor Life Coaching

Community Impact Awards – $500

Kierra Wilcox and Pamela Stanley – Abena Infusion Specialists
Fareshta Gurbaz – Baran Kabab
Dedra Ridges – There’s Hope

About Start:ME

Start:ME is delivered by Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in partnership with community lead nonprofit organizations East Lake Foundation, Focused Community Strategies (FCS), Friends of Refugees, and Purpose Built Schools Atlanta along with 70+ volunteer business mentors.

Start:ME is made possible by the gracious support of Bank of America, Delta Community Credit Union, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, Regions Foundation, Target Corporation, and Truist Foundation.

Learn more at startmeatl.org.

Enjoy more images from the 2024 Start:ME program graduation festivities below: