A Conversation About Creating Equitable Opportunities for All Michiganders


Michigan’s rich culture and ethnic diversity helps create a more equitable and resilient economy while supporting communities of color. Aileen Cohen, MEDC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, speaks with LeTasha Peebles of MEDC’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation team about how to prioritize support for Black-owned businesses , to women and minorities, and to expand economic opportunity for women and entrepreneurs of color, can help drive economic growth and prosperity across Michigan.

See below for key snippets and insights from the conversation and watch the full 20-minute livestream for more.

MEDC’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation team helps propel businesses by giving them access to critical resources

Aileen Cohen: Your role on MEDC’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation team has allowed you to work with organizations that support entrepreneurs and small business owners in many different industries. How would you say this experience has been for you?

The Tasha Peebles: The experience was great. In this role, I work with our SmartZones, which are strategically designated business accelerators across the state that help entrepreneurs at the start of their entrepreneurial journey. Then we have the university programs that help commercialize the technology. And of course, we have partners like the Michigan Small Business Development Center who also help entrepreneurs with business plans and access to essential resources. For me, watching these organizations do all they can to help entrepreneurs and move small businesses forward has been great.

Cohen: In 2020, you were part of MEDC’s effort to partner with Michigan Women Forward to create the Michigan Entrepreneur Resilience Fund, which prioritized supporting women and communities of color in a time when there was no wasn’t really a lot of fair resources for businesses and entrepreneurs owned by various people. to receive support. How did this partnership come about? And what kind of impact has it had over the past year and a half?

Pebbles: My first introduction to Michigan Women Forward was through their business pitch contest. After observing this, I was blown away by the quality of their contractor preparation and other resources they provided. From there, my colleague Maggie McCammon and I really developed a relationship with the organization.

When the pandemic hit, we saw how it was disproportionately affecting small businesses, especially those owned by women and minorities, and we knew we had to do something fast. Our initial idea was to set up a micro-loan and grant program, and we knew that through our partnership and relationship with Michigan Women Forward, they would be a great fit for this. We worked diligently on a proposal that became the Michigan Entrepreneur Resilience Fund.

With this launch, we were able to help nearly 200 small businesses from UP to Detroit. Of these small businesses, 73% were located in disadvantaged areas, 48% were minority-owned and 80% were female-owned. We were able to create 115 new jobs and retain 252 positions. These companies saw their revenues increase by more than $8 million. This, to me, sends a strong message about how we can invest in a business at a very early stage and see a critical return even in a pandemic.

Sowing the Seeds of Michigan’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Cohen: How can expanding opportunities for women and people of color positively impact Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and the state’s economy?

Pebbles: We’re kind of conditioned to think that a return on investment has to involve huge business. But we have small businesses that require little investment and will have larger dividends and returns over the longer term.

A great example is Skinphorea, a Detroit-area clinical and boutique skincare company. They used Michigan Women Forward at a time when they were hearing a lot of ‘no’s. This is not uncommon for small businesses, especially when you are female or minority owned. An investment from Michigan Women Forward launched a trajectory for this company. They settled in Royal Oak and opened a second location in Corktown. Then recently, an article was published showing that they are now bringing in over $1 million in revenue. They have two locations, multiple employees, salaries, investments, and they are also looking into franchise opportunities. All of this is a return on investment from a small seed that was placed in the beginning.

MEDC offers vast opportunities and resources for small businesses in Michigan

Cohen: For entrepreneurs and business owners joining us today, what resources are available through the MEDC?

Pebbles: First, our SmartZone business accelerators. We have 21 across the state that are available to help small businesses. We also have our academic programs, community development base, Pure Michigan Business Connect, and many other resources available at michiganbusiness.org/entrepreneurship.

We also have our Capital Access Program, which you are familiar with. How about helping entrepreneurs and providing the resources we have?

Cohen: With the Capital Access team, we work with lenders, traditional and not. By contacting the lender and letting them know about MEDC programming and things of that nature, we can help start the conversation. But I think there is more to come. I think we’re expanding how we help small businesses, and especially small businesses of women, minorities, and entrepreneurs of color. It will be exciting to see where MEDC goes.

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