Micro-enterprise in our 'hoods

DETROIT—When Angy Webb dreams about her future, she sees dollar signs.

But it’s not the kind you think. Webb hopes to open an independent dollar store near Joy and Southfield roads, around the proverbial corner from Detroit Housing Commission’s huge and ongoing redevelopment of the former Herman Gardens public housing site.

The development, Gardenview Estates, in its entirety will eventually have more than 800 affordable apartments and homes. Many of these will house middle- and lower-income residents and seniors, and that’s where Webb’s eyes really light up.

“It [a dollar store] is a wonderful thing for a community where there are people on a limited income,” says Webb. “You go to CVS and pick up a birthday card and a gift bag, and you spend about $8 whereas when you go to a dollar store, you only spend $2.”

But Webb, although soft spoken and friendly, isn’t shy about what could be in it for her,noting it’s a good opportunity for the owner “... because most people don’t come out of a dollar store having just spent one dollar – you can walk out of there having easily spent $20.”

Early signs of success are the result of local, culturally competent programming that helps folks overcome a number of barriers that might normally block success.

Educating Would-be Entrepreneurs

Thanks to Webb’s participation in a ProsperUS Detroit entrepreneur training program, she has done market research and put together a business plan. And she’s eyeing a property where a strip mall is under construction.

It’s easy for her to watch building progress because she lives across the street from the construction site. With a keen eye on the shopping center – and the dollars – she’s ready to move forward on her business plan when the building is lease-ready.

On a mild, rainy night earlier this winter, Webb participated in a graduation at Don Boscoe Hall with nine other community-based entrepreneurs who also completed the ProsperUS training. Among them sat an aspiring day spa owner, a future marketing consultant, and a would-be baker.

“We are extremely proud of the fact that we are able to find a wealth of hidden talent and innovation that exists in low-income neighborhoods,” says Kimberly Faison, director of ProsperUS Detroit. “This talent and innovation might not otherwise be identified or developed without a culturally competent approach such as ours.”

The program is designed specifically for low-income, minority and immigrant residents who want to learn the skills to start, grow, and successfully operate small, neighborhood businesses, or micro-enterprises, as the program calls them.

In this case, the neighborhood is Cody Rouge, but the program has also held training sessions at Vanguard CDC in the Detroit’s North End. A total of 17 graduates have completed the program, which launched last fall.

Turning Visions into Prosperity

The training program in Cody Rouge involved classroom instruction by Shawntay Dixon, the ProsperUS trainer who guided the students through the 20–week course, which included 11 classroom sessions and 10 hours of one-on-one coaching.

Dixon exudes professionalism, with a knockout suit, good posture and crackerjack composure. But there is a caring aspect to her demeanor too that shines when she talks about the progress she’s seen with the entrepreneur training students.

“They come here with a vision – often an idea that they’ve had for years, but have never been able to fulfill,” says Dixon.

By the time they complete the training, every aspect of that idea has been scrutinized and they organize their ideas into a viable business plan.

Fighting Blight

For Gary Ringer, that idea is a deconstruction company that provides manual demolition of properties. He sees the trend toward re-using and recycling old building materials as an advantage for his business idea. There’s an altruistic side to his plan too: “It’s all-hands manual labor,” says Ringer. “It takes more time, but it creates more jobs.”

He says that as land fills, well, fill up, there will be more demand to recycle materials.

As a homebuilder and Detroit firefighter, Ringer says that he sees vibrant communities, only to come home to Cody Rouge to see blight. Frustrated by the juxtaposition, he’d rather be part of removing that blight.

Financing Neighborhood Businesses

Ringer may well get the opportunity to do so. Part of the ProsperUS Detroit program is a small-business lending program that will provide up to $25,000 in business loans for participants.

The program will be accepting applications soon. Even without the program funding, some of the businesses are moving along with their agendas.

An internet café is currently under renovation with help from Joy Southfield Development Corporation; a social media marketing and branding firm is up and running; and an IT coding service is already doing business.

These early signs of success are the result of local, culturally competent programming that helps folks overcome a number of barriers that might normally block success.

“We are proud of the fact that our program digs deep into the community to reach people of color, both minorities and immigrants, who have an entrepreneurial endeavor in mind,” says Faison.

Also, ProsperUS doesn’t work in isolation, but partners with other organizations to recruit and engage new entrepreneurs, host training sessions, and provide wraparound services.

The ProsperUS Detroit model was created by Neighborhood Development Center of St. Paul, Minn., which has 20 years of demonstrated success in micro-enterprise development in low-income neighborhoods.

Up Next

Faison is currently interviewing future trainees, with the next set of classes taking place at Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance, Vanguard CDC, Focus HOPE, and SER Metro.

“These interviews remind us of the immense amount of untapped human assets that exist in this great city,” says Faison. “We are continuously amazed at the concepts that are waiting to be discovered, some of which are cutting edge.”


Have some business savvy that you want to share? Visit www.prosperusdetroit.org for more information.

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