The Detroit Entrepreneurs You Never Hear About

Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
March 10, 2015, 9:57 a.m.

DE­TROIT—Cor­por­ate in­vest­ment is re­viv­ing parts of down­town De­troit, but the rest of the city’s fu­ture may rest in the hands of low-in­come en­tre­pren­eurs. A grow­ing num­ber of im­mig­rants and Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans are launch­ing small busi­nesses against all odds in De­troit’s crum­bling neigh­bor­hoods. 

In the past two years, roughly 300 De­troiters have made busi­ness plans, learned to bal­ance their books, and ap­plied for mi­cro loans through Prosper­US De­troit, a re­l­at­ively new non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tion fo­cused on help­ing low-in­come small-busi­ness own­ers thrive in five strug­gling De­troit neigh­bor­hoods. Its 20-week busi­ness class and coach­ing ses­sions have launched mar­ket­ing firms, beauty salons, and ca­ter­ing com­pan­ies—and coached would-be busi­ness own­ers through some of the obstacles that can make start­ing a new ven­ture seem too daunt­ing.

“It’s not just writ­ing the busi­ness plan,” says Kim­berly Fais­on, dir­ect­or of Prosper­US. “It’s writ­ing the busi­ness plan, and your house is in fore­clos­ure. It’s writ­ing the busi­ness plan, and your car got re­pos­sessed.”

Poor cred­it bars many small-busi­ness own­ers from get­ting bank loans, so Prosper­US of­fers cred­it coun­sel­ing, budget­ing, and ac­count­ing help. About 40 per­cent of pro­gram gradu­ates have opened new busi­nesses in the city since 2012, and 47 per­cent already own one, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of par­ti­cipants. None of them have de­faul­ted on their loans.

The biggest chal­lenge now is reach­ing im­mig­rant en­tre­pren­eurs, Fais­on says. Many don’t speak Eng­lish, and they of­ten dis­trust fin­an­cial in­sti­tu­tions. One of Prosper­Us’s goals is to of­fer its busi­ness-train­ing pro­gram in Ar­ab­ic and Span­ish. Right now, about 85 per­cent of par­ti­cipants are Afric­an-Amer­ic­an. Sev­er­al are former auto­work­ers, such as Wil­lie Brake and Helen Shaw.

Brake, who owns a com­puter-ser­vice store called All About Tech­no­logy, worked with ac­count­ing and mar­ket­ing ex­perts from Prosper­US to open his first re­tail loc­a­tion and hire his first em­ploy­ee in a largely His­pan­ic neigh­bor­hood in South­w­est De­troit. Helen Shaw, 39, as­sembled Ford Ex­ped­i­tions in sub­urb­an De­troit for 10 years be­fore the fact­ory shut down in 2006. She went to beauty school and began do­ing hair in her midtown apart­ment. A few years ago, she wanted to make the jump to open­ing her own salon. With the help of Prosper­US, she was ap­proved for a $25,000 loan and was able to move her salon, Mod­el Be­ha­vi­or, from a run-down street to a more up­scale area in South­w­est De­troit. Shaw says she wouldn’t have got­ten this kind of sup­port if she opened her salon in the sub­urbs.

“We need it in the city,” she says. “If you ride up cer­tain streets, there are no busi­nesses open. It’s just all aban­doned busi­nesses. The city is where we need the help.”

What We're Following See More »
Revised Senate Bill Would Add Penalty for Going Uninsured
35 minutes ago
58 House Republicans Ask Ginsburg to Recuse on Travel Ban
59 minutes ago

The letter reads in part, "There is no doubt that your impartiality can be reasonably questioned; indeed, it would be unreasonable not to question your impartiality. Failure to recuse yourself from any such case would violate the law and undermine the credibility of the Supreme Court of the United States.” Ginsburg said last year, "He is a faker. He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego."

Richard Anderson to Take Over at Amtrak
1 hours ago
Cornyn Says Health Vote Needed This Week
2 hours ago
State Dept. Anti-Semitism Office Will be Unstaffed
2 hours ago

"Its remaining two staffers, each working half-time or less, would be reassigned as of that date. The Trump administration, which has yet to name an envoy to head the office, would not comment on the staffing change. At full staffing, the office employs a full-time envoy and the equivalent of three full-time staffers."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.