Onetime football player tackles business challenges with help of Philly mentors

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James Betterson, former Philadelphia Eagles running back and owner of BetterClean Laundry in Northeast Philadelphia, on February 15, 2019. Betterson, graduated of the free

James Betterson, former Philadelphia Eagles running back and owner of BetterClean Laundry in Northeast Philadelphia, on February 15, 2019. Betterson, graduated of the free "Power Up" business training program. He'll speak next week in City Council during a hearing to determine if the program will get extended funding. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Inside BetterClean Laundry, owner James Betterson does it all. He fills the snack vending machine, rolls laundry carts out the way and consults with customers.

“You taking the fabric softening option or standard?” Betterson asked a customer dropping off a bag of dirty clothes at his Northeast Philadelphia laundromat.

Betterson opened his business in 2016 after a career in newspaper subscription sales and a brief stint as a running back for the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 1970s.

He quickly realized there was a lot to learn about the laundry business.

“I’m just thinking that I just open up, and all these people are going to come in here. Well, we sputtered out of the gate,” Betterson said. “In a commercial plaza with big anchor stores like ShopRite, I have high rent. I have very high equipment costs. I’m paying this stuff back. I wasn’t hitting the projected numbers, and so I got scared.”

He enrolled in the “Power Up” partnership between the City of Philadelphia and Community College of Philadelphia that launched in 2017.

Betterson said the 10-week peer-based program that connects entrepreneurs and business owners gave him marketing skills, mentorship and confidence.

“I was looking at my numbers as far as my growth year over year, and I grew 37 percent,” he said. “Things are better. We’re paying all the bills, we have a surplus.

“Now, I don’t know if I want to attribute all that to Power Up, but I will say being re-energized and the things they allowed me to learn and the coaching have helped me.”

City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker said 120 small businesses have completed the Power Up program. And the city helped out with $2.4 million over a three-year commitment that will expire soon.

“We have a laserlike focus on doing our best to enhance and preserve and stabilize our neighborhood commercial corridors,” Parker said.

City Council’s Committee on Commerce and Economic Development will hold a funding hearing on Tuesday for Power Up. Betterson and others intend to urge the city to renew its commitment to the program at the hearing.

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