While larger retail companies have entered in the Detroit market, they have all entered in the downtown and midtown areas, meaning that small businesses are the backbone of Detroit’s other neighborhoods. ProsperUS Detroit, the nonprofit I am working with this summer, helps small businesses in those target neighborhoods, specifically in Southwest Detroit. ProsperUS offers entrepreneur training classes, business services, and micro-loans for both start-up and existing small businesses in Detroit. One of the most impressive aspects of ProsperUS that I have observed thus far is that ProsperUS is there for the entrepreneurs they support through every single stage of their business. Applicants to ProsperUS entrepreneur training range from those in the “dream phase” to those who have nearly completed business plan. ProsperUS’s interaction with their program graduates does not stop at the last class. In fact, many ProsperUS graduates come back for help with accounting, digital marketing, brand development and loans.
Yet, ProsperUS wishes that more of their graduates come back for business services and loans. About half of the businesses that ProsperUS provides business services or micro-loans to are ProsperUS graduates, and the other half are other small businesses in the Detroit area. Andrew and I have updated a post-assessment survey that is given to ProsperUS entrepreneurship training participants at their graduation to help discover why ProsperUS graduates do not request business services and loans as much as ProsperUS desires. By asking pre-cursor questions on the post-assessment that reflect the necessary requirements to get a loan or access business services, we are expecting to find why ProsperUS graduates may not be ready to apply for loans and business services. We will be collecting these survey responses as ProsperUS graduations take place and analyzing the data to recommend possible ways the entrepreneurship training can better prepare graduates to access loans and business services.
As I mentioned, ProsperUS is often there for every step of their training program graduate’s success, and on a more challenging, but more realistic note, also follows the possible failure of the startup businesses they support. Unfortunately, despite support, many small businesses in Detroit fail. Andrew and I’s current project is tracking the current operation status of businesses that ProsperUS has supported in some capacity. We are creating an in-business map to show all businesses that are run by ProsperUS graduates, recipients of business services, and loan recipients. We have been extensively researching these businesses to determine whether or not they are transactional and have also called many businesses to ask about their business address. We include a brief description of the business, their contact information and address for all businesses (but omit the address for home-based businesses). In our orientation with Southwest Solutions, the larger nonprofit under which ProsperUS Detroit operates, CEO Joe Tasse spoke a lot about how Southwest Solutions is looking for ways to incorporate data to measure Southwest Solution’s impact. Although Southwest Solutions has countless stories of individuals who have been touched by their organization, data projects like our mapping project can give funders a bigger picture of the results and regions that benefit from Southwest Solution’s resources.
I am excited to see how our mapping project can be utilized by staff to help better track the progress of ProsperUS affiliated businesses and measure the widespread impact ProsperUS has in the Detroit area. With that said, I have also really enjoyed meeting and hearing from individuals who have grown their businesses with ProsperUS’s support. Andrew and I’s first main project was collecting incomplete data and worksheets from graduates of ProsperUS’s Aspire Entrepreneurship Training for Returning Citizens Program. We met face-to-face with most graduates and it was really exciting to hear their businesses ideas and successes.
Furthermore, it was eye-opening to hear about the challenges they have faced in starting their own business or in other aspects of their life. The Aspire program graduates are particularly resilient because all have incarcerated in their lifetime. A couple of them explained to me that they want to grow a business because entrepreneurship is one of their best opportunities. It is hard for returning citizens to find work with a criminal record, yet many have mastered new skills and unique talents in courses while incarcerated. All of the graduates were so grateful for ProsperUS and even Andrew and I for helping them complete the data collection. Although the data collection was very time-intensive, all of the participants were patient and willing to devote their valuable time because they knew that their data was helping guarantee funding for a second cohort of returning citizen entrepreneurs. The sense of camaraderie and community between the graduates was really special to see, and I am really hopeful that the second cohort beginning in July will be similarly close. Although I will not be there to meet the second cohort of entrepreneurs, just helping them through the in-phone application makes me so excited to play a tiny part of them taking such a big step forward in life. After I emailed one applicant to tell him that he was welcome to the program, he emailed me, “Thank you for this opportunity. I truly hope that we can achieve GREATNESS together.” I know that he will achieve “GREATNESS” and I feel truly grateful that I get to play a part in ProsperUS helping spark his greatness within Detroit’s budding entrepreneurs.