Thomas Carmouche has spent about 30 years in the business of cleaning and restoration services, but at this point with his cleaning business, he’s ready to focus on being a better entrepreneur.
The cleaning part he has down. A full-time custodian at a high school, Carmouche also heads up Impact Cleaning System, which specializes in cleaning carpet, tile, concrete, upholstery and other items. But now that he has been paired with MBA students from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Moody College of Business as part of the Accelerate Northside program, he has a better vision for that goal.
Posted on the wall of Jermela Haynes’ bakery that opened earlier this month are these words: I came. I saw. I conquered.
“I feel more enlightened,” Carmouche said. “I realize there’s a reason why I’m not able to fit in the chair in my second-grade classroom. I had to grow up, which we all do. My business is getting to more of a maturity stage. These tools will help me continue down the road.”
Carmouche was one of 12 business owners in the final stage of Accelerate Northside, a six-week business incubator course involving startup and small businesses in partnership with the Greater Southwest Louisiana Black Chamber of Commerce and the Louisiana Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Center at UL.
The mentorship sessions were earlier this month, and each participant paired up with two or three students, who made presentations earlier this month on how to reach that next step as an entrepreneur.
“It was really, really good,” LEED Center director and UL marketing professor Geoff Stewart said. “All 12 teams did a really nice job. Just a tremendous opportunity to engage with some companies that were very eager and wanting their assistance. The students embraced the opportunity and did a really good job, all in all. Some of them were challenging.”
In Carmouche’s case, the two students he was paired with identified growth opportunities for his business by cleaning residences. Impact Cleaning has long specialized in commercial clients across Louisiana and Texas, but students Charlotte Domingue and Thomas Ogelsby put together a SWOT analysis and came up with opportunities in Lafayette Parish in the growing residential market.
Carmouche could target adults ages 25-64 with a college degree and a middle- to upper-middle-class consumer with disposable income, Domingue noted. And for families with parents who both work, they might not have the time for a high-quality cleaning but would value a unique experience.
“It’s really the continual question of asking why,” Domingue said. “There’s this constant asking of why and finding out what they’re really after. With him, you’re not just cleaning someone’s floor. There’s got to be an answer behind it. I went all in with the suggestions and brainstorming with Mr. Carmouche. I was able to put myself in his shoes.”
Students and leaders of the Accelerate Northside program will keep in touch, Stewart said, but also the next step will be to establish a mentoring program within the community for future business owners to become a self-sustaining program.
“We talk about the biggest challenge in starting this is the distance between the head and the heart,” Stewart said. “We want to give you the training to help you understand, but we also want to care for you. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch. The participants have really coalesced and they really, really support each other.”
Carmouche, who once lived out of his car in Texas years ago, credits his network around him who have helped get his business established. That includes his wife of 26 years and his seven children, attorney John Milton and Bishop Jarvis Harmon with True Vine Ministries.
The course, with the students and the Black chamber, were also impactful.
“It was well-needed,” Carmouche said. “I think part of the process of what we (as entrepreneurs) go through forces us to be optimistic. When you have to pay bills and you’re making a decision between putting gas in the car and going to a customer’s house or putting food on the table, it’s not like a job where everything is set and a check automatically comes. I’d recommend optimism.”