Five Years of Empowering Entrepreneurs

Contractors attend a training group to prepare for certification

The City of Kalamazoo has had a successful Brownfield Redevelopment program for decades. Until recently, however, a critical part of economic development was missing. No programs were in place to help entrepreneurs, startups, and small or micro neighborhood businesses.

This is one of several areas where the Foundation for Excellence has been a gamechanger. In a few short years the City of Kalamazoo has gone from offering no support at all to local businesses to investing hundreds of thousands of dollars per year into entrepreneur education, technical support, storefront improvements, and 0% loans and grants. More residents have the help they need to turn their idea or passion into a sustainable business. Our community and local economy reap the benefits as more people prosper, families have greater financial security, and unique products, services, and retails spaces flourish in Kalamazoo’s neighborhoods.

Neighborhood businesses can apply for grants from the Business Development Fund (BDF) for technical assistance, to improve their storefront, or to prepare interior space. BDF also provides gap funding to bridge the difference between available financing and what it takes to make a project successful.

FFE funds also support the Black Entrepreneur Training Academy (BETA) program through Black Wall Street Kalamazoo. The fivemonth cohort-based training equips Black entrepreneurs with the skills and education they need to be successful. BETA also provides lowbarrier access to funds to those who complete the program, with the opportunity to pitch for up to $5,000.

Tradespeople are in demand, and FFE also invests in local contractors. The Core60 program works with contractors of color to help them achieve certification, which in turn unlocks larger jobs and the opportunity to bid on government projects. It’s also a great networking opportunity for contractors to share advice, experiences, and real world projects.

The COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted businesses, and small, local businesses are least able to adapt. FFE support made it possible to almost immediately launch the Kalamazoo Small Business Loan Fund (KSBLF), which provided loans to small businesses in Kalamazoo on favorable terms. This funding helped support these businesses while larger federal support was created and made available. The KSBLF continues to offer bridge loans.

Microbusinesses with fewer than ten employees often have the most difficulty accessing funding. The Kalamazoo Microenterprise Grant (KMEG) program was created in 2020 to help these businesses, focusing on BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color)- and women-owned businesses, or businesses in core neighborhoods. 250 businesses have received $1.25 million in support through KMEG. 73% of these businesses are BIPOC- or womenowned, representing 18 of Kalamazoo’s 22 neighborhoods.

Empowering and investing in entrepreneurs helps revitalize neighborhoods, create job opportunities, and build wealth. In turn, these investments further our community goals more broadly. This is another area in which FFE makes it possible for the City of Kalamazoo to have a direct impact.