In 2002, Jermaine Wilson moved from Philadelphia to Cedar Rapids and found everything he needed—almost. He was surrounded by family and friends, but one thing was missing: water ice.
While the Midwest offered plenty of actual ice during the winter months, the sweet Philadelphia spin on Italian ice was noticeably absent during the sweltering, humid summer. Jermaine looked forward to his visits to the east coast, partially because the deceptively named, fruit-flavored dessert awaited him.
Eventually, Jermaine decided that he would have to be the one to make water ice available in Cedar Rapids. He bought a truckload in Philadelphia, drove it back to Iowa, and started peddling it around town on a bike he had fixed with a generator and freezer. Jay’s Water Ice was born.
But while Jermaine knew water ice, he knew less about being an entrepreneur. “The Cedar Rapids Entrepreneur Program (CREP) taught me the business aspects I didn’t know,” he said. “I especially learned about social media advertising and budgeting.” Given the seasonal nature of Jermaine’s business, the year’s late spring has put those lessons to the test.
CREP was a partnership between GoDaddy and Jane Boyd that eventually became Empower. “The 12-week program gives underserved entrepreneurs access to customized workshops, trained coaching staff, industry experts and other resources,” says Maurice Davis, Empower Program Coordinator. “The aim is to strengthen the entrepreneurial community through education, social capital and mentorship.”
Through the entrepreneurship program, Jermaine also learned about the MICRO loan program. The low-interest loan for small businesses in Cedar Rapids allowed him to purchase equipment and supplies for growing his business.
Jermaine now has a truck, allowing him to reach all parts of the city. He generally starts his days on the southwest side and tries to circle Cedar Rapids, but he often makes detours by request. Local businesses and events enjoy having Jay’s Water Ice on hand as a treat for employees and clients. This is part of what Jermaine loves about his business.
“I still have a part-time job, because this is seasonal,” Jermaine said. “But I get the joy of working toward being my own boss and exploring new possibilities. Plus, there’s the fun of being outside.” When asked what advice he might give to emerging entrepreneurs, Jermaine said, “It’s not a quick payoff. But with Empower and MICRO, you can get started pursuing your dream.”