Community Engagement

Entrepreneurship is prospering in Detroit


This story was written by Darlene A. White. It is the seventh in a series of nine stories funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that aims to highlight stories written by emerging writers in Detroit.

Entrepreneurship is booming in the United States. Census Bureau survey data states that the total number of business applications doubled in 2020 compared to years prior. In Michigan, entrepreneurs filed over 148,508 business applications in 2023, with Wayne County entrepreneurs launching over 39,000 small businesses — the most in the state. 

There are, however, substantial challenges to business ownership for Detroiters. The biggest hurdle, lack of access to vital resources and capital to run and sustain a business, is one that ProsperUs Detroit is working to address.

Dedicated to shaping the future of these local entrepreneurs in Detroit, ProsperUs Detroit is on a mission to lighten the load of these challenges by offering training, services and loans to citywide low- and moderate-income business owners.

Overlooked entrepreneurs

ProsperUs Detroit was established in 2012 with the goal of supporting entrepreneurs who are often overlooked. The initiative was spearheaded by Global Detroit Executive Director Steve Tobocman, who worked with regional partners to launch ProsperUs as a program. In 2021, ProsperUs received certification as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).

According to Joanna Dueweke-Perez, ProsperUs Detroit’s chief operations officer, Tobocman was inspired by the ingenuity and innovation of immigrants and entrepreneurs of color, and wanted to find a business model that worked to support them through the unique challenges they face.

“ProsperUs knows entrepreneurs are all around us, and trusted community connectors are critical to reaching them,” Dueweke-Perez said. “We collaborate with neighborhood organizations to ensure that the people living in Detroit’s neighborhoods have an opportunity to build their future. We trust that residents know what the neighborhood needs, and successful businesses help create thriving communities.”

She added, “we partner with organizations to provide emerging entrepreneurs with the tools to consider the viability of their business ideas and connect with the entrepreneurial community.” 

Microloans and coaching

ProsperUs also provides entrepreneurs access to a network of service providers and offers microgrants up to $2,500 toward their projects. The organization provides a range of help, including funding, business services, financial coaching, and training. The impactful $5.2 million total in microloans and technical assistance support, with 67% of borrowers being women and 98% people of color, underscores the organization’s significant influence.

“Catalyzing positive change in our communities requires us to boldly disrupt the systemic barriers that have historically left people of color out of opportunities to pursue economic mobility,” said Paul Jones, ProsperUs Detroit’s newest chief executive officer. In his position, Jones is responsible for cultivating trusted and transparent relationships with partners, funders, and the community, with a focus on developing and implementing practices that honor their commitment to economic development and align with the organization’s priorities and mission.

Each year, ProsperUs provides business planning support to more than 100 entrepreneurs through cohorts rooted in different neighborhoods. In addition to classroom instruction, participants have access to up to 10 hours of one-on-one support with their coach. The ProsperUs Entrepreneur Training Program offers participants an overview of fundamental business principles as well as dedicated one-on-one support. After graduating from the 12-week program, applicants have a better understanding of their business model, target market, and financial needs and projections. 

Empowering entrepreneurs 

Chef “Mama” Nezaa Bandele, the owner of Paradise Natural Foods, stands as a testament to the positive impact of the ProsperUs organization on businesses. Through her natural food business, she has successfully turned the concept of “healthy eating” into “a joyous eating experience and not a sacrifice,” said Bandele.

Mama Nezaa first discovered ProsperUs through an advertisement flier, just when she was actively seeking ways to elevate her food business. In 2018, she participated in the Hatch Detroit contest, an innovative contest that empowers the community to help decide winners of small business grants through a voting process. Throughout the competition, ProsperUs played a pivotal role in supporting her venture, covering essential expenses, and providing valuable consulting services.

“I received accounting and business plan assistance,” she said. “I also received the first Small Business Hero Award and a surprise $10,000 check. ProsperUs now contracts with my business for catering events.” She added, “I became one of the top four finalists, but more importantly, I was introduced to the city as a whole, and other technical assistance providers,” Bandele said. “Although I did not win, my company sales were equal to the prize money within several months.”  

In Mama Nezaa’s business, she aims to promote a healthy lifestyle for her customers by advocating mindful food choices and endorsing local farmers and food producers. Her aim is to encourage the adoption of nutritious alternatives over processed foods, contributing to the prevention of chronic illnesses. “I feel that I am a part of a family at ProsperUs,” she expressed. “Their encouragement has been invaluable as I continue to pursue opening a brick and mortar.” 

To learn more about ProsperUs Detroit and their impact on the city of Detroit, visit: ​​

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