Detroit has made major contributions to the rise in Black-and minority-owned businesses in the past decade. Today, the country enjoys more than 8 million minority-owned businesses, a number that has grown 38% since 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. In Detroit — a city of 670,000 — the 2019 census reported more than 50,000 businesses owned by Black people and other people of color. But the Motor City’s countless non-profits, initiatives, and community partners create a vast network, and that means entrepreneurs might struggle to find the right support system. So we’ve made a list of organizations to turn to. Whether you want to jumpstart your idea, grow an established business, or stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, these eight organizations can help:
This coworking space offers a mailing address, as well as access to events and an online community for $60 a month. The office sits inside the Julian C. Madison building, named after the entrepreneur and engineer, according to Curbed Detroit. The building is now owned by his daughter Sharon Madison. Recently, Bamboo Detroit hosted a “Coping with Covid” series where startup experts shared their knowledge on topics ranging from attaining investors to using media to promote your brand.
CEO Amanda Lewan founded the space in downtown Detroit in 2013. “At the time, there weren’t a lot of coworking spaces,” Lewan says in an email to Socially Driven. “And we found a sense of community helpful to welcome others in Detroit.” For those who don’t need office space, Bamboo offers virtual memberships with a resident coach who can provide one-on-one guidance. Those in the office enjoy daily workshops that offer tips on how to achieve business growth.
On the west side of Detroit sits an incubator born from an abandoned printing facility. This decade-old organization, which uses its intentionally childlike name to remind entrepreneurs of the careless creativity of youth, is launching Ponyride 2.0 and partnering with the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan to attract more social entrepreneurs and expand its reach. The organization boasts a launch of 45 small businesses — 72% of the employees at these companies are women and 55% are minorities. In an effort to target entrepreneurs in Detroit’s neighborhoods, the organization features an initiative known as the “Ponyride Makers Market,” which hosts pop-ups, lectures, and workshops.
Before COVID-19 moved non-essential workplaces online, Chris Butterfield would visit coffee shops around Detroit and conduct open office hours for people seeking business advice. These free, one-on-one sessions served as part of his work in the business services sector of ProsperUS Detroit, which has aided business owners since its founding in 2012. “What we do is totally predicated on ensuring that Native Detroiters, Black Detroiters, and immigrant entrepreneurs have a stake in the city, and from that, generational wealth can be manifested,” Butterfield says. “That’s our hope.” To accomplish this, the organization offers three areas of support — training, business services, and micro-lending. Their classes and personalized sessions in English, Spanish, and Arabic help people write business plans, marketing strategies, and financial projections. Additionally, the classes are hosted by culturally competent trainers such as the East Side Community Network. Fees are either $75 or $100 based on household income, and payment plans are offered. Business owners can also take advantage of 10 one-on-one sessions with a trainer.
Regardless of someone’s credit or ability to offer collateral, ProsperUS offers loans that are considered “high risk.” But it’s worked. So far, only two businesses have defaulted. ProsperUS Detroit also offers financial assistance with everything from legal aid to marketing, web design, and architectural services. Butterfield says ProsperUS targets neighborhood businesses outside of downtown and midtown, but that the ultimate goal is to level the playing field for Black- and minority-owned businesses, regardless of location. Organizations in other cities have replicated the ProsperUS model for their community and gather every year to talk about best practices for assisting businesses.
Great Lakes Women’s Business Council
Since 2016, this council has supported a Detroit business growth initiative. Through it, small businesses can receive training to scale up. Noting the poverty rates in Detroit, business growth manager Anthony Farris says that business owners who receive help through the initiative must have a low to moderate income. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve offered help with business stabilization and finding grants. The council offers up to 30 hours of coaching with tasks such as marketing, reading balance sheets, finding a mentor, and retaining employees. It also seeks to serve new and established companies, including more than 60 companies around Detroit. Additionally, businesses classified as a women’s business enterprise can attend free webinars and connections to resources around Michigan.
Located in the historic Corktown District, Build Institute is a non-profit dedicated to entrepreneurial growth. They offer seasonal classes that service people who own a business or want to start one. They offer four classes — Co:STARTERS, BUILD Basics, Build Impact, and the Masterclass — that feature four to nine weeks of instruction. Other classes, such as Build Bazaar, help students launch ideas or offer skills that help seasoned entrepreneurs increase their bottom line. Class fees are on a sliding scale, ranging from $100 to $500, and are negotiable in extraordinary circumstances. Although BI is currently only accepting applications for the BUILD Basics class in Ferndale, there are free online office hours with industry professionals to assist in small business development, social media, funding, marketing, and a variety of other topics. The teacher and facilitator rosters feature successful entrepreneurs, lawyers, and founders of organizations such as Thrive Detroit, Good Cakes and Bakes, and Launch Exchange. Their skill levels range from two to 10 years in their respective fields.
New Economy Initiative
This initiative provides resources to entrepreneurs and small-business owners in southeast Michigan. Since 2007, NEI has received $159 million from supportive foundations such as the Ford Foundation, the Charles Mott Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation. These foundations once existed as small, family-owned businesses, expanded to become some of the 20th’s century’s largest corporations, and leveraged that success to fund philanthropic initiatives that fuel the growth of small businesses. With a fund this size, NEI helps more than 12,000 small businesses in southeast Detroit, business owners apply for grants through the fund. Another initiative under the NEI umbrella is Detroit Innovation. Fellows of this program are social entrepreneurs who receive a stipend to create community solutions. Despite the pandemic, resources for new business plans exist and are featured on their website. Additionally, NEI offers free public webinars led by industry experts like members of the BridgeDetroit team. These webinars explore a range of topics such as racial disparities in loan assistance and how to manage your online ads.
Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program at Wayne State University
The Mike Ilitch Business School, a college at Wayne State University, sits in Detroit’s midtown and offers students the opportunity to earn degrees in business and certificates in entrepreneurship and innovation. This certificate features three paths, including one in social entrepreneurship. Designed around students’ interests and educational needs, the 15-credit program provides students with a foundation in entrepreneurship and an understanding of a social entrepreneur’s purpose. After the four main courses, students end the program with a capstone class, “a project-intensive learning experience in the Detroit entrepreneurial ecosystem designed to deepen students’ understanding of what it takes to translate ideas into reality,” according to the program’s website. Students come from various academic backgrounds, and the program welcomes those without business experience. The program is open only to undergraduate and graduate students of the university. Graduate Isha Naik studied social entrepreneurship along with computer science. “Social entrepreneurs are just so incredibly passionate about solving a problem that impacts many, many people and they keep that mission at the forefront or everything that they do,” Naik says.
This non-profit organization serves as a resource for anyone preparing to be an entrepreneur. They offer a mentorship program and five workshops that detail how to launch, fund, and grow a business. The Growing Your Business workshop includes six sessions that cover how to create goals and accomplish them, as well as how to manage the daily operations of a business. For more personalized support, the mentorship programs allows members to search online for a person who possesses the desired experience and geographic location. There is also a tool on the organization’s website that pairs members and mentors using a questionnaire. If members leave the Detroit area, the organization’s network extends beyond the state of Michigan.