Applications are now open for the first round of grants from a newly established fund for women-owned businesses in Muskegon County.
The Business Equity Initiative fund was founded by three local women seeking to make the Muskegon area’s economy more equitable. Launched with an initial $20,000, fund organizers hope to continue fundraising to reach $300,000 over the next three years.
The new fund is held at the Community Foundation for Muskegon County and guided by a committee of local entrepreneurs, a Community Foundation representative and the founding donors. The grant distribution will be overseen by Michigan Women Forward, a community development financial institution (CDFI) focused on increasing economic opportunity for women and people of color.
Business Equity Initiative founding donor Nancy McCarthy is a member of the Muskegon Rotary Club’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. One of the texts selected for the committee’s book club — Heather McGhee’s, “The Sum of Us: What racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together” — inspired McCarthy and fellow founding donors Mary Anne Gorman and Kim Suarez to think about how they could make a difference in their community.
“We were all very moved,” McCarthy said. “We just had the idea that we should do something.”
Through consultation with the Community Foundation and several local women of color entrepreneurs, the rotary members learned that one of the biggest early barriers is a lack of access to capital.
Ana Jose, director of business development at Michigan Women Forward, said it can be difficult for women and ethnic minority entrepreneurs to secure funding.
“Research shows that it’s a lot easier for a male to get funding,” Jose said. “We’re going to need more women like the ones who came up with this particular project.”
Jose immediately wanted to be involved after McCarthy approached Michigan Women Forward about the project.
“I felt that [this project] was so important for us to be a part of because we really wanted to see the community grow and to make sure that minority-owned businesses get the help that they need,” Jose said.
Community Foundation Program Officer Jocelyn Hines, who represents the foundation on the fund committee, said the program is a welcome development.
“I’m glad that the community is finally investing in women of color entrepreneurs in the area,” Hines said.
To be eligible for a grant, applicants must be low- to moderate-income residents of Muskegon County who have been in business fewer than three years. Grants of $1,000 to $5,000 to help cover rent, equipment, licensing and other critical operating costs will be awarded late this summer. Grant applications, designed to be easy and streamlined to minimize barriers, close June 30.
Jose said boosting minority-owned businesses is a key step toward leveling the playing field for entrepreneurship. She believes the Business Equity Initiative grants will have a significant effect in the community.
“This a great opportunity for the community to come together alongside these three women to help them grow these funds and to change lives in the community,” Jose said.
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