$450K distributed to 90 Kalamazoo businesses through micro-enterprise grant program – mlive.com


KALAMAZOO, MI — A partnership is bringing $450,000 in crucial funds to strengthen 90 Kalamazoo microbusinesses.

United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, the city of Kalamazoo and the Foundation for Excellence jointly announced the second round of Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grants for the second consecutive year.

In 2020, the partnership granted $500,000 to 100 eligible businesses to help them cope with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is a total of $950,000, given to 190 businesses over the last two years.

“Micro-enterprises bring vital energy to our local economy,” said Natalie Saucedo, senior director of strategy & innovation, UWBCKR. “More than that, because many of these businesses are owned by entrepreneurs from historically under-resourced populations, their success helps build a more equitable community.

“These grants will make a powerful difference for the smallest businesses in Kalamazoo. We’re proud to be part of this unique and special effort with the city of Kalamazoo and the Foundation for Excellence.”

The $5,000 grants were made available to eligible microbusinesses within the city limits. The Kalamazoo City Commission approved funding for the program in March, and the local United Way solicited and reviewed grant requests during the summer. As a result, 90 micro-enterprise businesses within the city limits are receiving grants.

For a complete list of the 90 grant recipients and more details on the grants, visit changethestory.org/micro-enterprise-grants.

The new round of grants aims to support community members living below the ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained and Employed) threshold, with a strong focus on providing support to BIPOC-owned and women-owned microbusinesses. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Historically, BIPOC- and women-owned businesses have struggled to access funding compared to other businesses, and they were hit especially hard by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the news release states.

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“Micro-enterprises bring so much to our community,” said Antonio Mitchell, community investment manager at the city of Kalamazoo. “When we invest in their success, we are not only investing in the entrepreneurs and employees behind them, but in the products, services and businesses that we all enjoy and that make Kalamazoo the vibrant community it is.”

Entrepreneurs and small business owners create jobs, economic activity, and hope for Kalamazoo, FFE Manager Steve Brown said.

“Economic prosperity aligns powerfully with the FFE’s purpose to reduce generational poverty and mission to help all residents create the lives they want for themselves and their families,” Brown said.

According to Saucedo:

  • 57 grants (63% of the total) went to business owners who identified as BIPOC or multiple races.
  • 37 grants (41%) went to business owners who identified as women or non-binary.
  • 31 grants (34%) went to businesses in the Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo neighborhoods.
  • 78 grants (87%) went to businesses with 2020 revenues of less than $250,000, making a $5,000 award a meaningful investment in their business.

Microbusinesses receiving KMEG support have already put those dollars to work.

A.T. Guys, LLC, provides technology products, services and training to benefit people who are blind or have severely impaired vision. Owner Jason Meddaugh said the pandemic put a stop to in-person business, including conferences and exhibits that drive much of their revenue.

“This funding helps us to bridge the gap until in-person events are possible again,” Meddaugh said in the news release. “The grant money helps us ensure that we can continue to compensate our employees while also having the flexibility to bring in new inventory and prepare for future business expansion.”

Mae Risk, Shop Manager at Heirloom Arts, LLC, said KMEG funds will help her business move into much-needed new space. Heirloom Arts offers original tattoos done in a clean environment by non-binary and women artists, the news release states.

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“We have outgrown our current space, and this will allow us to grow our business,” Risk said. “We will use the grant funds to build out the new space with what we need and complete our new lease agreement.”

Gregory Woods, co-owner of Grub N Stuff, said the grant for his business comes at a crucial time, making it “worth a lot more than $5,000.”

“The grant helps us recoup some expenses we had for repairs that I paid out of my own pocket. We are using the grant funds to replenish our building and make other investments in the business,” Woods said.

Fit Bella Vei, providing personal trainer and nutritional services, invested grant dollars in renovating the space where the business operates, enhancing safety and comfort for customers.

“I am truly grateful for this opportunity,” owner Carmen James said. “A lot of support was offered during the grant process, which made it clear that the United Way wants as many people as possible to be able to take advantage of the grant. It is empowering for small business owners, especially for me as a Black female, to have this kind of support.”

Micro-enterprises, also known as microbusinesses, are very small businesses—typically 10 or fewer employees— yet bring unique skills and services to the community. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, micro-enterprises make up about 75% of private sector employers. Many micro-enterprises are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of color)-owned and/or women-owned.

Micro-businesses that did not receive KMEG funds in 2020 were eligible for the latest round. In addition, eligible businesses had to qualify as follows:

  • Be a for-profit company located in the city of Kalamazoo.
  • Have 10 employees or fewer.
  • Have annual revenue of $1 million or less.
  • Have been in existence for one year or longer.

Needs working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses, or other similar expenses that occur in the ordinary course of business.

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KMEG funds can be used for, but are not limited to, operational costs (such as rent, mortgage, utilities and other ordinary business expenses), payroll and benefit costs for employees. Recipients must use their grant funds within six months and report back to United Way on how the funds are used.

Beyond the KMEG program, UWBCKR staff are working with community organizations and volunteers in developing additional supports for businesses that did not meet the eligibility criteria, Saucedo said. Also, the City, FFE and United Way continue to partner on the Kalamazoo Small Business Loan Fund.

KMEG strives to increase access to funds for populations who have historically not had access to traditional grant and lending sources. In an effort to remedy these disparities, BIPOC-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and businesses located within the Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo neighborhoods of Eastside, Edison, and Northside were encouraged to apply. In addition to this emphasis, UWBCKR continues to maintain a commitment to all people, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or physical, mental or developmental abilities.

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