Column: Entrepreneurism changes lives

Andy Meisner

Though Muhammed Yunus was a Vanderbilt-educated economist with a promising career teaching in the U.S., he was drawn back to his native Bangladesh by a deep concern for those living in poverty.

Returning home to work in local government, he met a group of women in a small village who made bamboo baskets and furniture. Despite their ingenuity, they were trapped in a cycle of poverty and dependency. Funding necessary to acquire materials for their products could only be obtained through loans with usurious terms.

Yunus believed in credit as a fundamental human right and maintained that poverty could be escaped through the combination of access to credit on reasonable terms along with sound financial education. He made a personal loan of only $27 to the bamboo workers and saw first-hand what a disproportionately positive impact it had in facilitating their self-sufficiency. The concept of microlending was born.

Yunus went on to found a microlending bank that has helped empower entrepreneurs across Bangladesh and the world. His model has been replicated repeatedly and in 2006, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

We know that here in Michigan there is no shortage of people with good ideas and the willingness to work hard. There is no shortage of microloan funding either, though barriers still exist to people accessing available funding. Time consuming applications, budgeting or credit issues can keep would-be entrepreneurs from achieving their start-up dreams.

As Oakland County treasurer, I’m proud of the resources we provide to support businesses of all sizes including the Business One-Stop Shop, Automation Alley, Tech 248, Medical Main Street, and the Business Finance Corp./ Economic Development Corp., to name a few.

However, not everyone is ready to take advantage of these services. Some potential entrepreneurs have a viable idea but their personal finances need attention. Some would-be entrepreneurs need help with start-up basics like writing a business plan, preparing pro-formas, and cash flow projections.

Thanks to a generous grant from Huntington Bank, additional free services are available from our Oakland County Financial Empowerment Center including:

One-on-one financial literacy counseling specifically tailored to individual’s goals and needs, including strengthening budgeting and money management practices, developing profit and loss statements, and basic expense tracking for business,

Help resolving credit collection or credit score issues to be better positioned for financing,

Assistance with microloan applications to access capital backing ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $250,000.

We call it the “Financial Literacy Bootcamp for Entrepreneurs” because like other bootcamps, it will at times be rigorous and challenging and will test an individual’s mettle, but with perseverance and hard work, participants will come through stronger and well-positioned for success.

The Oakland County Financial Empowerment Center is a partnership between JVS Detroit and the Oakland County Treasurer’s Office founded in 2014 to provide financial counseling for homeowners in the wake of the foreclosure crisis. Since then, we have helped over 600 Oakland County families navigate difficult financial waters. Today the economy is in a different place and we are expanding the capacity of the Financial Empowerment Center accordingly.

For more information about the Oakland County Financial Empowerment Center and the Financial Literacy Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs, visit or call 248-858-5218.

Like Dr. Yunus, we believe that entrepreneurship can be a great economic equalizer and provide income and jobs for hard-working people in neighborhoods from Bangladesh to Pontiac, Michigan.

We believe that this effort is what is needed in this moment in Pontiac, Oakland County and the region. I’m excited to see what happens when additional entrepreneurial energy is unleashed throughout the area.

Andy Meisner is treasurer of Oakland County.