Minority business fund boosts 30 Detroit companies

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Detroit — Minority-owned small business owners are stepping up to “compete with the big boys” on major projects thanks to help from the city’s Entrepreneurs of Color Fund.

That’s according to Adrienne Bennett, owner of plumbing company Benkari Mechanical, who got a loan from the fund that “teleported us to a new level.”

“It’s a blessing,” she said. “We were able to pursue a portion of the Little Caesars Arena.”

Those in charge of the fund began lending a year ago from a $7-million pot created to support Detroit-based neighborhood businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color, or businesses that hire primarily people of color.

To date, officials have awarded $2.75 million total to 30 area small businesses. It was created by the Detroit Development Fund, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“One of the most important things we can do to keep Detroit’s recovery headed in the right direction is come together to support the work being done by our minority, small business owners,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “Our entrepreneurs have much greater access to the resources and tools they need to succeed and grow in neighborhoods across our city.”

Bennett said the loan allowed her to get new equipment and systems to operate her business at the level needed to compete for high-level projects like the new arena.

Her company is in charge of installing the plumbing systems in one of the buildings flanking the Little Caesars Arena. The project “demonstrated our ability,” she said.

“Being a small business is a struggle, and recovering from the depression, the construction industry in Michigan got hit really hard,” Bennett said. “With this loan, I’m competing with the big boys.”

Bennett said she recently landed a contract for another bigger project in the city.

The fund is one part of JPMorgan Chase’s $100 million investment in Detroit. Chase contributed $3.5 million to it, and the Kellogg Foundation covered the other half.

“Small business owners like the ones benefiting from the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund are critical to Detroit’s comeback,” Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase, said in a news release. “The lessons learned from this fund are not only paying off in Detroit but have allowed us to develop similar programs for minority-owned, small businesses in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City.”

According to officials, a majority of the loans went to “neighborhood businesses.” It’s estimated the loans helped create 79 jobs.

Forty-five percent of the loans support minority women-owned businesses.

There are 50,000 minority-owned small businesses in the city.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau