Since 1951, Fourth Avenue Supermarket has been a fixture in Bessemer, Ala., a small city just to the west of Birmingham.

Now owner Gerry D’Alessandro wants to take his family-owned business to another level.

“I’ve owned the store for five years, and I’m 28 now,” D’Alessandro said. “It’s always been in the family. Now, we want to take a company from two stores to 200, and I want to learn how to do that from the experts.”

D’Alessandro will participate in a full-day Harvard-style executive education program presented by Inner City Capital Connections Aug. 6 at Birmingham’s Regions Field. Think of it as an MBA crash course. A national program designed to accelerate growth of businesses in urban areas and provide access to capital, ICCC helps firms overcome obstacles. Classes will be led by Harvard professors and local experts.

Regions is serving as lead sponsor of the program, as it did for ICCC Memphis. Other sponsors include the Birmingham Business Alliance, Alabama Power and Protective Life Corp.

A native of Birmingham, D’Alessandro majored in risk management and finance at Mississippi State University. While he has a degree and real-life experience, he’s looking for more knowledge as he grows his company, which added a second store in Oxford, Ala., recently and expanded to 100 employees.

“I’m interested in learning about different ways to access capital and grow the business,” D’Alessandro said. “I’ve taken some Harvard executive education classes before, so I’m familiar with them. But those were a lot more expensive. This one is free. You can’t beat that.”

Businesses complete an application process to be considered for participation in the ICCC Birmingham program. The conference’s list of participating companies include 59 percent that are minority-owned and 45 percent that are owned by women.

Like other participants, D’Alessandro is willing to give up a work day to glean new ideas and strategies.
“I’m excited to have this opportunity, to listen to the experts,” he said. “My experience is that an event like ICCC is priceless.”