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In 2020, EntryPoint had great conversations with 40+ thought leaders across the country on The Cackle and we all want more!  So in 2021, we are continuing the conversation with those guests to dig a little deeper into topics that matter. Like serving small businesses and startups. 

Keep Cackling with Jennifer Owens from Lakeshore Advantage

In my conversation with Emily Heintz in July 2020, I shared that the goal of Lakeshore Advantage in serving small businesses and startups in our community is that they see us as the “Easy Button.”

I chatted about community support available for small businesses and startups with Emily on an episode of The Cackle, but let’s dig deeper into how economic development organizations can be helping your business.

The Role of Economic Development Organizations

You know the button at the big box office supply store checkout counter? It announces, “That was easy,” when you push it. Lakeshore Advantage and other Entrepreneurial Support Organizations (ESOs) want to be that “Easy Button” for you. Our focus is serving small businesses and startups and we have a pulse on the tools and resources available to help you grow and navigate tough spots. When you come to us and say you need assistance, we can say “There’s an app for that” (sorry/not sorry for the brand cross reference with this throwback Apple commercial.) And if we don’t have an app for what you need, we can connect you to someone who does, or we might consider building the program you need. In the past year, I’ve seen this happen multiple times for startups and small businesses we serve.

Tailored Solutions

One example of small businesses reaching out for help and receiving assistance they needed was evidenced through the Michigan Small Business Restart Grant program. This statewide grant allocated $100m of federal CARES Act funding to support businesses negatively impacted by COVID. Statewide, over 14,000 small businesses received grants through this program, that also required 30% of the businesses be diverse-owned. Lakeshore Advantage administered this program last year for Allegan and Ottawa counties, where 428 small businesses (including startups) received the grant, and 68% of the recipients were diverse-owned businesses.

Jennifer Owens, president, Lakeshore Advantage
Jennifer Owens, president, Lakeshore Advantage

Support for BIPOC-owned and Woman-owned Businesses

That got us to thinking, how can we continue serving small businesses and startups owned by BIPOC individuals and women past this grant award? How can we be the “Easy Button” for them? About the same time, Lakeshore Advantage was approached by two of our region’s largest employers, Gentex and Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, who were pushing the “Easy Button,” wondering how we could help grow the pool of certified Minority Business Enterprises so they could purchase more goods and services from diverse vendors.

In partnership with the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council, Lakeshore Advantage created a series of videos and webinars to inspire eligible businesses to become certified. These videos include the benefits of certifying: expanded business and mentor support, and expanded customer base. The videos offer a roadmap for how to certify as each diverse business designation is different in Michigan. The series also features an inside look at the corporate buying process with business leaders who have established supplier diversity programs at their companies. This peek-under-the-hood encourages more businesses to establish diverse purchasing practices. You can see the Certify Your Business series on our website HERE.

We all need help at some point and running a business is HARD.

Please allow your ESO and support network partners to be the “Easy Button” for you so that you can focus on what you do best – growing your business. We can navigate you through the tough spots to resources you need. There is almost no joy greater to me than when a small business asks for help, they receive the support they need, and then they say “thank you for making this easy for me.”

Two key points for entrepreneurs to keep in mind:

  1. Build your support network – lean on them, learn from them, support them back.
  2. Identify where you need help, ask for the help, and be open to accepting the help.

You have nothing to lose with pushing that “Easy Button,” and much to gain. It’s up to you to push it, and you will be glad you did.  

About Jennifer Owens & Lakeshore Advantage

Jennifer Owens is president of Lakeshore Advantage, a nonprofit economic development organization serving primary employers, from startups to fully mature companies, in Allegan and Ottawa Counties. The Certify Your Business series is a resource applicable to all Michigan businesses.

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