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Attah Obande, director of dream fulfillment with SpringGR Attah Obande, director of dream fulfillment with SpringGR Courtesy Photo

The 250 Project seeks to help minority entrepreneurs scale up companies

BY Sunday, March 27, 2022 06:54pm

A Q&A with Attah Obande, director of dream fulfillment with SpringGR

Attah Obande is the director of dream fulfillment at SpringGR, a nonprofit that offers resources to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Obande has been with SpringGR since the organization formed in 2014, and he recently helped kick off a new initiative called The 250 Project to help minority entrepreneurs scale up their businesses. The program started after SpringGR found that less than 1 percent of Grand Rapids businesses generating at least $250,000 a year were owned by people of color. SpringGR will partner with 13 local business owners in The 250 Project’s first seven-month cohort that started last month, following a curriculum that provides business education, networking and access to capital and contracting. Obande recently discussed the new project with MiBiz, as well as the ongoing need to support minority entrepreneurs.

How is The 250 Project different from other programming that SpringGR offers entrepreneurs?

Our other program is entry level — we’re the on-ramp to entrepreneurship if you have an idea for a fledgling business. We give you the main principles to start and grow your business idea. 

This program has a curriculum that is really focused on business growth. We set a goal of at least 30-percent revenue growth for businesses to reach in the program. Part of the goal of this program is also to shine enough light on this issue for other people to step up to the plate. We’ve been having multiple conversations with community development financial institutions and lenders to see if we can create loans to help qualify entrepreneurs almost specifically because they are a graduate of this program. 

How did you research businesses owned by people of color in Grand Rapids, and why did you choose to focus on companies making at least $250,000 a year?

We picked $250,000 because it’s not a lot of money for a small business to make, but typically when a business brings in that much money, the owner is working in the business full time and has one or two other employees. The owner has pretty much said this is a business I want to continue to pour into — it shows a level of dedication to the business.

We looked at our alumni and how many of them were making that amount of money and there wasn’t a lot, so we decided to look citywide. We reached out to the public library and asked a researcher there for data and did some digging. Out of the 11,500 businesses in Grand Rapids (earning at least $250,000 a year), only 70 are owned by people of color. 

How did this research translate into creating The 250 Project?

The data lets us know that businesses (owned by people of color) are starting, but they’re not able to grow. The 250 Project is designed specifically to help a business that has been established to be able to get the training, knowledge and know-how to scale up.

We also talked to some of the minority entrepreneurs making over $250,000 as well as those making under, service providers and lenders. What we heard by and large was the importance of retaining existing customers and finding new ones, having industry-specific training and having a clear plan to scale.

What other obstacles are there for people of color starting a business in Grand Rapids?

There aren’t programs that help (minority entrepreneurs) scale and grow their business, there are financial barriers of not having capital resources and there is a cultural barrier we seem to have as a city that doesn’t allow businesses to grow. We tend to support businesses of color charitably, but then outside of the highlighted months like Black History Month or National Hispanic Heritage Month, the patronizing of those businesses is few and far between, which limits growth.  

How is The 250 Project going with the first cohort of entrepreneurs?

It is going really well. We have 13 businesses right now. Everyone is very engaged and soaking up all the information. We’re four sessions into the classes. We’ve got a range of people including a cookie company, a cleaning business, a home inspections business, professional painters and a dumpster rental company.

Read 2398 times Last modified on Wednesday, 30 March 2022 11:09