With a number of major public projects well underway, Detroit’s planners and lenders have renewed focus on the role of small business development in the city’s ongoing revitalization. Now the next step of putting these lessons to work nationwide is taking shape.
The famous urban planning pioneer Jane Jacobs knew well that such comeback stories are built block by block, with diverse and stable communities creating a contagious vitality that could spread street by street, neighbor by neighbor, to form a diverse and thriving city. Vibrant local businesses are these blocks’ bedrock.
But building these strong communities hinges on local businesses that can help them grow, and that’s no easy feat. Difficulty accessing capital, business networks, and understanding of steps required to create a successful business can be daunting to would-be business owners. However, collaborations like Detroit’s Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, can address each of these factors on behalf of the burgeoning businesses they serve.
A case study of one such business in Detroit is the House of Pure Vin, a wine store nestled in the thick of downtown. During its first 120 days in operation, the store’s three female African-American founders have seen a steady uptick in business. And, like many similar small businesses across the city, their success stems from extensive pre-opening planning and support from outside entities. The support the founders experienced is varied and multifaceted; it’s an example of a new small business development system working effectively, and is a model that cities around the US can strive to replicate.
The founders got their start at a retail boot camp offered by Tech Town, Detroit’s preeminent business accelerator and incubator. Their boot camp experience helped them qualify for the initial phase of the Detroit Development Fund’s (DDF) newly established Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, a $6.5 million lending program with financial backing from the JPMorgan Chase & Co. foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. But the EOC Fund is just one project backed by the DDF: in its role as a certified community development financial institution (CDFI) the Fund makes loans to countless small businesses and serves as advisor to a wide variety of entrepreneurs.
“We felt they needed some assistance in addition to the retail boot camp,” DDF President Ray Waters explained. “We sent them to another business partner of ours called Lifeline Business Consulting… for fine tuning the business plan and their projections.” There, the team received guidance from seasoned retail veterans in tackling challenges such as the store build out and integrating a point of sale system. DDF helped House of Pure Vin budget as accurately as possible, and when inevitable overages arose, they leveraged their funding network, pulling in another CDFI for an additional investment.
The ability of new businesses to kickstart a local economy is anecdotally clear, but is also supported by US jobs data. A recent US Census-guided study found that while first-year businesses account for only 3% of total US employment, they are responsible for 20% of annual hiring activity—startups are more reliable job creators than larger legacy companies that employ more people but hire less frequently. In other words, these entities are crucial for growth and generating new jobs.
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