Detroit Means Business coalition raises $1 million, seeks more funding for 10 big equity goals

Desy Papper

Detroit Means Business, a public-private coalition formed to help entrepreneurs navigate COVID-19, announced Tuesday that it has 10 big goals to help small businesses past the pandemic and needs money to do it. The effort housed under city development agency Detroit Economic Growth Corp. is moving forward from emergencies to […]

Detroit Means Business, a public-private coalition formed to help entrepreneurs navigate COVID-19, announced Tuesday that it has 10 big goals to help small businesses past the pandemic and needs money to do it.

The effort housed under city development agency Detroit Economic Growth Corp. is moving forward from emergencies to long-standing equity problems, Detroit Means Business Chair Carla Walker-Miller, CEO of Detroit-based Walker-Miller Energy Services, said in a virtual event Tuesday afternoon.

The group has raised $1 million for its operations so far, coming from Bank of America, Bedrock LLC, DTE Energy Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, the New Economy Initiative, Ford Motor Co. Fund, Lear Corp. and the DEGC. DTE Energy Foundation has given $500,000, DTE CEO Jerry Norcia announced on Tuesday.

More is needed, though the exact amount was not disclosed as of Tuesday evening.

The city of Detroit and 30 private organizations formed Detroit Means Business last spring to offer PPE, technical assistance and opening resources. It started out propped up by in-kind services from DTE Energy Co. and other companies. But partners wanted it to exist past the pandemic, becoming a one-stop-shop for Detroiters starting up businesses, seeking funding or navigating headache-inducing permitting processes. Sixty organizations are now involved, from Bank of America to Build Institute and FoodLab Detroit.

DEGC’s vice president of small business services, Pierre Batton, laid out Detroit Means Business’s goals in a presentation Tuesday:

  • “Create and measure a business culture built on equity, respect, trust…”
  • Invest $250 million in small businesses through grants, loans and incentives — make 90 percent of that go to Black-owned businesses or those owned by people of color
  • Get $2 billion in new contracts in the hands of Black- and person of color-owned businesses
  • Create 25,000 jobs
  • Increase revenue by 50 percent at 5,000 small businesses
  • Help start 10,000 businesses
  • Get 25,000 businesses online with digital strategies
  • 500,000 hours of mentoring
  • Tackle regulatory barriers

A timeline was not given. Crain’s requested additional comment.

Batton has taken over management of Detroit Means Business from Kai Bowman, a former executive director for planning, housing and development for the city of Detroit who joined Detroit Means Business in December as its leader but has since left to pursue another “opportunity,” according to a DEGC representative.

Also speaking at the fundraising launch Tuesday were Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and DTE’s Norcia.

“We’re going to elevate our small business support ecosystem by aligning our goals and our impacts in a way that really addresses the obstacles …” Batton said. “What we’re really creating here is a transformational tool. It’s a tool that has the power to lift Detroiters out of poverty, to rebuild the Black middle class … and to increase economic mobility for Detroit residents.”

Black-owned businesses are central to Detroit’s ecosystem — they are prevalent, provide neighborhood jobs and are more likely to hire Black and brown employees, Walker-Miller said.

“Even in the midst of our worst nightmare during COVID, we started to dream. What if the businesses in Detroit were more successful? What if they hired more people?” she said. “What if we leveraged the relationships and the expertise of existing business service organizations who’ve been on the ground for years, and instead of just filling gaps, what if we reimagined it? Expanded capacities?”

Detroit Means Business has an advisory group that includes business owners from “every district” in Detroit, Walker-Miller said, including Nefertiti Harris, owner of Textures by Nefertiti in New Center, who alsospoke Tuesday.

Officials have previously declined to disclose funding information on Detroit Means Business, which works in partnership with the city but is housed under the nonprofit DEGC. Charity Dean, the city’s former director of the city’s civil rights, inclusion and opportunity department who helped lead COVID-19 business response efforts, estimated back in June that more than $250,000 worth of pro-bono work hours had been spent on Detroit Means Business at that time.

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