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Program boosts 2nd stage for rising minority firms

June 17, 2016
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A new business growth program hosted by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is off and running.

Elevate Minority Business, a program designed to grow minority-owned second-stage businesses in Grand Rapids, was announced at the beginning of the year and introduced its inaugural class of five local entrepreneurs in May.

Chamber Vice President of Business Growth Initiatives Janet Wyllie said while a number of area programs help grow minority-owned startups, there was a need to provide similar guidance to minority-owned businesses in the second stage of their growth — those with at least $500,000 in annual revenue.

“We created the Elevate program to help strengthen and expand the minority entrepreneur community, foster growth and see greater economic improvement,” Wyllie said. “Our program is specifically focused on companies that are already successful but still growing.”

A month into its launch, the five entrepreneurs have met with program manager Brian Harris, DDA board chair and former CEO of H & H Metal Sources, who will help to identify goals and formulate a work plan for each business.

“This program is taking a very intentional approach to growing these businesses,” Harris said. “The program is not only working directly with each entrepreneur one on one, but it will also help condition the support networks and the majority-owned corporations to look to these business owners as potential vendors and for community engagement.”

The inaugural class comprises five entrepreneurs from a wide variety of industries in the Grand Rapids area:

  • President and CEO Noël Cuellar of Zeeland-based Primera Plastics.
  • President and CEO Michael Davenport of Grandville-based Jireh Metal Products.
  • President Javier Olvera of Supermercado Mexicano.
  • CEO Jodi (Vanden Berg) Van Haren of Advantage Mechanical Refrigeration.
  • Principal/owner Ted Vaughn III of Hudsonville-based Tolman’s Wholesale Meats.

Once the entrepreneurs have their work plan, they will meet with an advisory council on how to best implement it.

The goal is to increase growth by 10 percent for each business at the end of their first year in the program, Wyllie said. Businesses then will be reevaluated and a determination made on whether they should remain in the program or “graduate” from it. Wyllie said some businesses may stay in the program as long as three years.

The plan is for Elevate to welcome a new class each year, but for now the focus is on building a strong economic development program and learning along the way.

“We’re building the bike as we’re riding it,” Wyllie said. “So we’ll be tweaking along the way and looking for ways to improve, with input from the entrepreneurs.”

The Chamber also will take some cues from the city of Cincinnati’s Regional Chamber, which established a flourishing Minority Business Accelerator in 2003. Elevate is modeled after the Cincinnati program, and Wyllie said one of the great things about the Chamber network is the willingness to share ideas and help replicate programs in other cities.

“You always have to tweak to make it your own,” Wyllie said. “But we recognized that they’ve had success (in Cincinnati), and with their help we were able to look at their program and see where it could be successful here, too.”

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