Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)
In September of 2018, a model strutted down a runway in St. Louis in an unusual yet elegant garment: a dress, cape, and headdress made of organically draped, white balloons.
This was the creative vision of Miltina Burnett, owner of Bella Lavish Decorations — a growing company specializing in event decoration, and one of the more unique (and successful) small businesses currently supported by the STL Partnership Business Center @ Wellston.
Burnett hasn’t always had the resources to turn her creative passions into financial success. She spent time in and out of homeless shelters as a child before earning her GED, and going on to a two-decade career as a radiology technologist.
When Burnett saw her first “balloon column”, she was initially intrigued and then compelled to try it for herself in her own living room. The results of her first experiment led to her first customer.
Before long, she had a thriving side-business lending her creative touch on weddings, graduations, grand openings, and more.
Eventually, she was eventually faced with the choice that many small business owners face: Whether or not to give full-time attention to the part-time passion project — or stick with the day job. Burnett chose her passion.
In the beginning, she knew little about managing a small business, and admits she made a few mistakes at first — capital expenditures (i.e. an old UHaul) that didn’t turn out to be sound investments. Still, she enjoyed enough success that Bella Lavish Decorations soon outgrew her living room. The business center helped her take it to the next level.
Joining the Wellston Business Center
Bella Lavish Decorations is part of a wave of businesses that have joined the Wellston Business Center since its size-doubling expansion, which was completed in July 2018, thanks to a combination of federal and municipal investment. With a mix of office and warehouse space, the small business incubator draws a range of community-building enterprises, from construction services and industrial design to home healthcare and consumer tech.
When she applied for space at the business center, Burnett didn’t realize that its offerings extended far beyond conveniently-located office space. Wellston’s dynamic support structure and entrepreneurial community have “energized” Burnett’s young endeavor.
From networking events to intra-office chats, the Wellston Business Center has been “amazing” and brings a sense of “togetherness”, she says. “We’re all going on the same path. We can actually talk to each other about what we are going through… It’s really like a big family.”
When Burnett realized she needed extra hands on deck for her business, her dedicated SBTDC Business Counselor, Colleen Mulvihill, put her in touch with a Wash U professor and a group of marketing students eager for hands-on experience in entrepreneurship.
She also plans to pursue hiring through the AARP’s SCSEP program. With support on the accounting, hiring, marketing and social media fronts, Burnett has the latitude to drive her creative vision forward.
Growing the Business
With the space and support at the Wellston Business Center, Burnett has been able to take the company beyond balloon creations, and into event production.
But although the company has grown substantially, she has stayed true to her original purpose: “I concentrate on the people and the community.”
Bella Lavish periodically provides its services free of charge. A recent charitable fashion show saw her work show up in everything from balloon gowns to balloon purses. Proceeds from the event went to a local family to provide resources for their autistic child.
Burnett’s vision for Bella Lavish is to become one of the major event decorators in the region, with plans to expand into set design for T.V., theater, concerts, and more.
As the business scales, she has the Wellston Business Center for support: If she needs a small business loan, she knows that the incubator can put in her touch with a federal program. And with a location close to public transportation and childcare, she knows the office will be accessible for any new hires she decides to bring on in the future.
Burnett is excited to pass on what Wellston has already taught her. Her advice to other entrepreneurs just starting out? Do your research and stay true to your unique vision.
“Never follow,” she says. “Be creative and make your own path. That’s what’s most important — capitalizing on the unique difference that you bring to the table.”