Anthony Ayodello poses the CellPros shop with his wife. He is one of the many recipients of Comcast’s RISE Initiative, which aims at providing marketing, creative, media and technology services to small businesses owned by people of color. Photos contributed
Written by Frank Lopez
Comcast California recently announced its third round of recipients for their RISE program, an initiative aiming to provide Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) owned small businesses with marketing and technological resources to stay afloat during the pandemic.
The rise program began in November, and since then, California has had 174 participants in the program and nearly 3,700 across the country. This latest round of recipients includes some local business owners.
There are 12 businesses in the Central Valley that have received the awards since the program started.
Comcast RISE stands for “Representation, Investment, Strength and Empowerment” and is part of an expanded diversity, equity and inclusion commitment that Comcast announced last summer.
Business owners who receive the award will be provided with marketing consultations, technological makeovers and creative and other media support services to help revitalize their small businesses struggling to stay open as a result of the pandemic.
The company announced that it will support 13,000 small businesses by 2022.
“When we launched Comcast RISE, we knew a profound need existed in many of the communities we serve,” said Kristeen Cominiello, vice president of Comcast Business, Comcast California. “We now have seen firsthand how the program’s marketing and technology resources benefit the business owners who are working hard to rise above 2020, as well as their neighbors who share their commercial corridors, and their suppliers and customers up and down their resource chains.”
Fresno-based CellPros, a mobile phone store that provides repairs, phone sales, bill pay, coverage plans and buybacks for old cellphones, is a local businesses that received the Comcast RISE award.
Anthony Ayodello, founder and owner of CellPros, immigrated to the U.S. from Lagos, Nigeria in 1993 when he was around 12 years old and attended Central High School and Bullard High School, and then Fresno City College, which is where his interest in technology and tech repair grew.
Ayodello’s parents had come to the U.S. to get established, and then brought him from Lagos to Fresno.
Ayodello has always had an interest in the latest tech, keeping up with the newest gadgets. With the release of the first iPhone in 2007, he knew he wanted to be part of a new trend.
“It was so cool and so new, and people were using phones in different ways. And then came the touch screen. I was always of the mind that it can only get better from here, and I just always saw that it was going to be huge, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Ayodello said.
Around 2007, Ayodello was working as a substance abuse counselor teaching life skills and working with students at local schools, but he was laid off.
With more time on his hands, Ayodello started to “flash” people’s phone, which is reprogramming a cell phone to work with a carrier other than the intended provider.
At the time, people were taking their phones purchased from Verizon or Sprint and transferring service to low-cost carrier Cricket.
That’s how it all started for Ayodello.
He was making enough money by just flashing phones that he didn’t even feel like going back to his old job.
In 2011, Ayodello opened up the first CellPros store in 2011 on Kings Canyon and Peach avenues, in the space of a former tax office.
Ayodello chose that location because he wanted to be available for the right demographic that would be less interested in signing up for contract service plans with major carriers such as Sprint and Verizon.
After a call with the owner of the building, Ayodello struck a deal to use the building outside of the tax season and set up an area to be able to flash phones. It grew slowly. Eventually the owner of the building let him take over the entire space.
Now in his tenth year in business, Ayodello said it’s a good time to step back and reassess if the shop is meeting goals and being the best it could be.
Fortunately for Ayodello, assistance from the Comcast award will help the business moving forward to meet future goals.
The award created opportunities for CellPros to get more recognition as a minority owned business by getting Ayodello’s story featured on Comcast’s RISE website.
The goal now, he said, is to help the company last another 20 years and beyond. That comes with more market share, building a sustainable brand and possibly even partnering with Comcast for in-home services.
“The program helped us refocus on our brand message and how to tell the story of who are. Its not enough to just do a good job or offer a good product, but you also have to tell a story — you have to tell a compelling story,” Ayodello said.
Another local recipient of the Comcast RISE award is Neneng Paat, founder of Central Valley Medical Education.
The company is a medical training school in Madera that provides medical education and training to doctors, nurses, teachers and anyone in need of First Aid or CPR training.
The school provides online and in-classroom training or courses and offers various certifications.
Paat was born in the Philippines and immigrated with her family to the U.S. when she was seven years old, first stepping on American soil on December 26, 1980 in San Francisco.
Her father came to the United States a year prior, and petitioned for the rest of the family to come, having to prove that he could support the family for the petition to be granted.
Paat’s father was a farmer back in the Philippines, and he continued in that profession after settling with family in Orosi. Paat herself worked in the fields from the age of nine to 18, when she went off to college.
She attended UC Santa Cruz for her premed studies, then moved to Los Angeles and worked as an EMT to get some medical background, which is where she met her husband.
Together they developed interest for their business and founded Central Valley Medical in 2010.
Paat said that the assistance from the RISE program really helped the business, especially during the pandemic when certain certification renewals were postponed and clients weren’t in need of classes.
“Because of how the pandemic has affected all major small businesses, it was nice to have that support from Comcast to provide services that our company really needs,” Paat said.
Paat said that they will utilize the marketing and communication opportunities provided by the program to help reach more people.
Being a woman of color in the medical field did have its hardships Paat said, and it was an eye-opener to first experience the adversity so many women face.
“You just have to keep trying,” Paat said. “You cannot allow anyone to diminish your ability. A lot of times as a woman, and a woman of color, people treat you differently or don’t give you the same opportunities, so you definitely have to work a lot harder.”