Uncovering the essence of Northside entrepreneurship

Alicia Moten and her son Seriyan Broussard
Alicia Moten, right, and her son Seriyan Broussard

Alicia Moten’s path to entrepreneurship has not been easy. But once she made a decision to move forward, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, the universe conspired to make it happen.

For the 37-year-old Lafayette single mother, who could not afford homeownership on her state employee salary, creating her own company was a must. 

The universe intervened. 

The intervention was Accelerate Northside, a six-week entrepreneurial program to start and grow a business. It was hosted by UL Lafayette’s Louisiana Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (LEED) Center in conjunction with the Greater Southwest Louisiana Black Chamber of Commerce.

“I went in with an idea,” Moten says, “and came out with an entire business.” 

That business is now Essence of Aja, an array of aromatherapy, healing herbs and flowers that Moten credits with eliminating her migraines. She named her company for the forest goddess.

Accelerate Northside’s goal is to invest in the community and its people, according to Kevin Guillory, LEED Center’s office coordinator. “And so we felt this was fertile ground to bring something like this to the community and be part of the community, and help the community grow through the entrepreneurship of people who lived in the community,” Guillory says.

Along with her best friend Dielila Babineaux and colleague Shirlane Sam, Moten became one of 35 participants who completed the pilot program earlier this year that targeted business owners, side hustlers and budding entrepreneurs. 

Lafayette’s Accelerate program is one of six partners — cities, institutions and organizations nationwide — using the entrepreneurial curriculum developed by social innovation and entrepreneurship scholar Michael H. Morris as part of the Urban Poverty and Business Initiative at the University of Notre Dame. (Other partners include Baton Rouge, Gainesville, Milwaukee, San Diego and South Bend.) 

On July 10, the LEED Center will kick off another six-week entrepreneurial program, Accelerate Evangeline, in conjunction with the Evangeline Chamber of Commerce in Ville Platte. It is not too late to sign on. And in October, the LEED Center will conduct the second Accelerate Northside in Lafayette. 

Entrepreneurship can be a tool to escape poverty for some Accelerate participants, Guillory says. 

And that is what the university’s LEED Center, directed by Dr. Geoffrey Stewart, had in mind. Along with Guillory and Jonathan Shirley, who is program and operations manager, they were a team committed to making entrepreneurship a reality for those who attended.

Fee waivers helped to level the playing field even more, enabling those who could not afford it, like Moten and her peers, to attend also.

According to Guillory, entrepreneurship can also be a tool to create generational wealth for Black business owners like Moten. “It allows individuals to take their life into their own hands,” he says, “and expands their opportunities to grow.”

And that is exactly what Moten had in mind. “I wanted to create generational wealth for my son and his family,” she recalls. “I just felt that this is it. This is my time.”

On average, Black families have less than 15% the accumulated wealth of white families, a phenomenon researchers call the racial wealth gap. The gap has been stubborn and consistent, according to periodic surveys by the Federal Reserve, and points to underlying factors contributing to multigenerational poverty among people of color. 

When Moten was young, her mother Linda Moten made sure that she and her brother Brandon Tessier never lacked for anything.

Now that she is an adult and responsible for her 11-year-old son, Seriyan Broussard, Moten is amazed when she reflects on what her mother provided despite the fact that she was a single mother too.

When Moten became pregnant as a young college student, she was aiming for a career in public relations. She wanted to promote businesses. At the time, she always knew she was going to be a people person no matter what she did.

She never realized, though, that instead of promoting others, she would one day be promoting her own business. Today her gift boxes start at $35, and her custom baskets are $60.

Starting and growing Essence of Aja was the result of her painful diagnosis of migraines, and realizing that prescribed medication was not the answer. At 5’2”, she considered herself “too small” to handle the different medications she was taking. She remembers thinking: “This is too much medicine for one bitty person to take.” 

Meditation became one of her first options. “It worked, but I wanted something more,” she recalls. 

Then she discovered aromatherapy and spiritual baths. “It blew the top off,” she says. “I didn’t have to take migraine medication anymore.”

Add in a glass of wine and chatting with her best friend Dielila one evening on the porch, and Moten realized she could serve others. “If this helped me,” she recalls saying, “I could help other people holistically.” She also knew she did not have to limit herself to helping only those with migraines.

Shortly after that, her colleague sent her the flyer about Accelerate Northside. 

And even though the program was overwhelming at times, Moten appreciated the knowledge and support she received. She says it was humbling that the LEED Center staff and guest speakers were so dedicated to the participants’ success. 

According to Guillory, the pilot program is still paying off months later. “A lot of them are putting their ideas into action, and Accelerate Northside kind of helped them take that jump,” he says.

There were no official entrepreneurs in Moten’s family, so it was an honor for her to become the first. Her late grandfather Joseph James Tessier was a mechanic all of his life, and also cut grass for a living. He may not have had an LLC, but according to Moten, he had the entrepreneurial spirit as well. “Any idea can grow millions, but you need the right support system to grow,” she says.

Moten looks forward to the day when she has more time to spend with her son. She worries that she is missing out too much on his life, as he is already halfway to adulthood.

But she loves that he enjoys serving as her guinea pig at times with her products, and she welcomes his input. He is proud of his mother, and doesn’t mind saying so. Moten knows their future is bright. And this time the universe does not have to conspire to make it so.

Still, she is clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. 

“Everything is not going to fall in place, whether you like it or not,” Moten says. “My mom raised me to be resilient. I’m going to get over that hurdle. I’m going to conquer it. The resilience that my mom put in me is amazing.”