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Flint businesses grow with Community Navigator Pilot Program

The City of Flint is celebrating local entrepreneurs who are accessing resources and growing their businesses with the help of the Community Navigator Pilot Program, funded by the federal Small Business Administration. Flint native Sheena Harrison is just one entrepreneur whose business, Drinks of Essence, has benefited from the program.

Harrison spent years working as a social worker. But a few years ago, she felt it was time to try something new. “I asked myself, ‘What else could I do?’ Then I thought, I’ve always liked mixing drinks, so I thought bartending school,” recalled Harrison.

Harrison attended a bartending school in Detroit. After completing the course, she started working at a bar where her custom cocktails became a crowd favorite.

“I moved up very quickly and trained a lot of staff,” Harrison said. “A lot of my customers started asking, ‘Could you do my open house, or could you do my wedding?’ So, that is how the mobile bartending company started.”

That was the beginning of Harrison’s company, Drinks of Essence. As she worked at various events, people began asking her to teach them how to make cocktails themselves.

“My fiancé said, ‘You should start a bartending school,’” Harrison said. “At first I was like, me? Then I thought more about it. I did my research, talked to my mentor who is in the business as well, and I came up with my curriculum and started from there. I started small with a little training facility because I wanted to test the concept. Then I got it licensed.”

Now, Harrison is the owner and CEO of Drinks of Essence Bartending School, the only licensed bartending school in Mid-Michigan. Thanks to her drive, perseverance, and assistance from the Flint Community Navigator Pilot Program, what once seemed like a far-fetched idea is now a reality.

“Small businesses are the backbone of Flint’s economy, and it is important for the City of Flint to meet them where they are and provide access to resources,” Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said. “We know that Flint residents are tenacious and hardworking, and we are seeing the entrepreneurial mindset spread throughout our community as people blaze a path to prosperity for their families, right here in Flint. The small business community is showing us every day that Flint is a great play to live, work, and play.”

After enrolling in the program, small business owners can get free assistance with business plans, loan eligibility, accounting infrastructure, marketing, and more. Harrison said once she became involved with the Community Navigator Program, it was a game changer.

“I’m always looking for help,” Harrison said. “I learned about the program and signed up for it. Throughout the program, they have helped me out with literally everything. I needed help with my financial structure, and they linked me with an organization in the community to help me with that. If I need help with marketing, they help connect me with someone for that. And when I let them know I was ready to move and was looking for a bigger location, when this became available, they were like, we might have something for you.”

Drinks of Essence Bartending School has a new prime location at 524 Buckham Alley in downtown Flint. The space offers an open, modern area to hold classes and events. The neon-lit bar area is filled with all the liquor, syrups, and flavors any mixologist in the making could want.

“In every aspect of my business, everyone in the Navigator Program has always been behind me, pushing me forward, making sure that I succeed, and helping with any of the tools that I need assistance with,” Harrison said. “Literally helping me grow in whatever way that they could.”

And Drinks of Essence continues to grow and thrive. People come from all over Michigan and beyond to participate in courses for ServSafe Alcohol Certification and Bartender Certification through the State of Michigan. There are also mixology lessons for those who just want to learn how to make cocktails at home for their guests. Last year, Harrison added a food truck into the mix. As the warmer weather approaches, Harrison and her team will be creating kid-friendly drinks and slushes at community and private events. She thanks the SBA Flint Community Navigator Pilot Program for all the connections and resources that have helped make her business the success it is.

“This program has been amazing,” Harrison said. “If you are a business in the city of Flint and you are looking for a little assistance, and you have a direction of where you want to go, and you’ve done the footwork, and you’re doing everything the correct way, you definitely want to be a part of this program because they can help you out. “

For more information about Flint’s Community Navigator Pilot Program, please visit