The meaning behind Room 38 Autobody is special to its owner, Akron native Donny Rodgers.
Rodgers, a 2002 graduate of Akron’s Garfield High School, lost his job as the high school’s auto body teacher when the school combined with Kenmore High School in 2017 and the curriculum was cut.
He taught in room 38 — where he thought he’d be for the rest of his career — for two years.
"I just pride ourself on being a community body shop, and I also wanted to keep a connection with the youth because we still need that training,” said Rodgers, 35, who employs a couple of former students and hopes to start a training program for young people.
Rodgers was the first-place winner at the “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition at the fifth annual Greater Summit Business Conference and Expo this week.
The conference connects new businesses with established ones to offer advice, mentoring and networking.
The event, with 45 vendors and about 10 new businesses, brought together small businesses, minority business enterprises (MBEs) and corporations from across the state to promote diversity, cooperation, innovation, growth and development.
Rodgers gave his five-minute pitch to a panel of judges Monday; he was announced as the first-place winner during the conference Wednesday afternoon at Quaker Station.
He won $1,500, which he’ll use to purchase air compressors and lighting for his shop at 1357 W. Waterloo Road in Akron. The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and is also on Facebook.
The second-place winner was Cassie McClellan, 33, of Akron’s Highland Square. She started Rubber City Resale, an online-based consignment store, this year.
"Think Facebook Marketplace but without the creepy factor of going to someone you don't know's house or meeting in the Target parking lot," said McClellan, a mother of three who cited safety concerns.
The business’s pickup and drop-off location is at 608 Grant St.; it sells on a website, rubbercityresale.com, and on eBay, Craigslist, Amazon and Facebook.
McClellan said although the focus is on Akron-area users, sellers can come from anywhere. Pickup from Akron-area sellers is also available.
The business doesn’t do clothing or cars, but furniture is its most popular item, along with kids’ toys, household goods and artwork — including work by local artists.
With her $1,000 prize, McClellan, whose background is in logistics, plans to hire someone to help with social media for the business.
Black Pages Ohio/Summit Magazine, a minority-owned small business directory, hosted Wednesday’s event, which included workshops and a business-to-business trade show.
Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro and Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan spoke at Wednesday’s conference, highlighting the ways their governments are working to improve diversity efforts.
Representatives from the Greater Akron Chamber, University of Akron, Huntington Bank and Cleveland Clinic Akron General also spoke on similar topics.
Shapiro, who spent years in the private sector before becoming the county’s first female executive, said she made a commitment when she took the office to be “very intentional” about the people the county hired.
Of the new hires and promotions of exempt employees in the executive’s department, 44 percent have been women, 33 percent have been minorities and 11 percent have been members of the LGBTQ community, statistics that drew applause from the crowd of about 150 people. Of her new appointments to boards and commissions, 44 percent have been minorities.
"I believe government should be an advocate and celebrate diversity in our community, and I believe that our county government should reflect those that we serve,” Shapiro said.
Contact reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.