In Battle Creek, Michigan, SecondMuse collaborated with the W.K Kellogg Foundation to support local entrepreneurs and entrepreneur-support organizations and promote their collective growth.
The soil for entrepreneurship in the U.S. is rich – but less so for women and minority business owners and those without significant monetary assets. Although women and minorities develop businesses at rates nearly proportional to their labor force participation, their ventures tend to be small, and they struggle to access the capital necessary to grow. Many reports they feel isolated, lacking connections to mentors and a supportive ecosystem of fellow entrepreneurs.
In Battle Creek, Michigan, SecondMuse collaborated with the W.K Kellogg Foundation to support local entrepreneurs and entrepreneur-support organizations and promote their collective growth. Through the Morning Light program, we leveraged community partners to deliver accessible programming for entrepreneurs of color, women entrepreneurs, and low-to-moderate-income entrepreneurs. Research demonstrates that wealth inequity hinders minority entrepreneurs because they have less financial insulation to take risks and absorb losses.
In its third year, Morning Light mined lessons from 2019 and 2020 to fill gaps in the ecosystem and create lines of communication between organizations, achieving notable successes along the way.
Morning Light helped the local Urban League and the Burma Center build their capacity to offer in-house entrepreneur support to the predominantly Black and Burmese American communities they serve, respectively. With Morning Light’s help, the City of Battle Creek supported aspiring food service entrepreneurs by establishing a ghost kitchen – a space rented from an existing kitchen where orders are taken online for delivery or pickup. These arrangements allow culinary startups to grow without a large infusion of capital for facilities and equipment. The median cost to open a restaurant is $375,500, according to a survey by Restaurant.com. The same initiative established a kitchen incubator, a startup space that aims to lower the financial barriers to entry for starting or expanding food-centric businesses.
Morning Light’s core strategy revolves around facilitating the sharing of information for a community that actively supports entrepreneurs; connecting and supporting entrepreneurs and entrepreneur-support organizations; and offering multiple pathways to grow and scale these businesses. In 2021, it distributed $30,000 in education awards to 20 businesses run by individuals with low-to-moderate incomes who completed a 10-week business training designed to increase access to networks of entrepreneurs and offer wraparound support to entrepreneurs of color.
Morning Light has become a whirling dervish of activity in the entrepreneurial space, weaving connections and facilitating supportive networks previously untapped. It piloted a Rebound Cohort for businesses that were negatively affected by the pandemic, delivered a five-week Co-op 101 course with Co-op Cincy that germinated two local food co-ops, and administered over 31 individual Strategy Sessions for “wantrepreneurs” in Battle Creek. It provided business storytelling seminars, organized community events, built a diverse mentor network, trained trainers at partner organizations, and so much more. Morning Light supported more than 75 businesses through various levels of program offerings.
The impact of Morning Light’s work as a facilitator and connector is substantial. With its help, six small, minority, and women-owned businesses earned loans worth half a million dollars. Four more are finalists for another $600,000 in loans. These infusions of capital will be critical to enterprise variability.
The newly entrepreneur ecosystem catalyzed by Morning Light and its partners has accelerated the realization of Suipi’s East End Eatery. Suipi Taikwel, a Burmese chef, beguiled diners with East Asian recipes from the incubator kitchen previously established for emerging minority entrepreneurs. But she struggled for several years to qualify for an SBA loan for repairs and upgrades necessary on the old café she purchased. Language barriers slowed her progress with city and county officials and delayed her opening for more than a year. A discussion of her plight at a Morning Light-sponsored gathering led to a meeting with a city official that has cut through red tape and shortened the timetable on her opening. The future of Suipi’s dream will now depend more on her chicken tandoori and barbecue beef and less on her ability to navigate the Byzantine systems of permitting and financing.
Ultimately, the key to a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem is community building. The Morning Light program work alongside the Battle Creek community in realizing collaborative projects and forming various partnerships, which will continue to run in the future. Dive deeper into the journey of Morning Light over the past three years, through the words of the community members: