By: Dana Johnson
Last May, the Consumers Energy Foundation donated $1.8 million to nine organizations to support primarily female- and minority-owned small business owners and entrepreneurs. Among the recipients, The Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) received a $200,000 grant to support their One&All program.
This inclusive entrepreneurship program was created to support small business owners who fall at and below the Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) threshold. The ALICE population signifies those who earn more than the federal poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living.
“The program is designed to remove barriers and encourage success,” said Anum Mughal, LEAP’s manager of new ventures. “Our goal is to empower and enable local entrepreneurs to put life into their dreams.”
Participants enroll in a two-month curriculum where they receive business coaching, mentorship, connection to a professional network and $2,500 in seed money following completion of the program. Although One&All was initially designed to take place in person, the pandemic required LEAP to adjust to a virtual format. This eliminates the need for participants to travel while juggling multiple jobs and family responsibilities but can create other challenges. LEAP partnered with The Fledge and the Refuge Development Center to help spread the word about the program and provide digital support for applicants who lack WiFi or computer access.
The first cohort graduated last fall and included 17 entrepreneurs from various industries including consulting, food, recreation, retail and tech.
A community of support for participants
One graduate, Byron Pepper, is working to start a board game café in downtown Lansing. Pepper was inspired to launch his business after hearing about Snakes and Lattes, a Toronto-based board game café. The concept combines his love for board games with his desire to introduce a new social space to the Lansing community.
Pepper’s vision for his business, The Board & Bean, is to offer a unique and affordable social experience where patrons can relax, make memories, and learn new games. The concept is simple: Pay a small entry fee to “buy your seat” and access a library of games to pick up and play with others.
For those who wish to dine, Pepper envisions a selection of coffee drinks and an Americana menu that features familiar foods with a unique twist that help to differentiate the offerings from other businesses downtown.
One&All has helped Pepper traverse barriers that entrepreneurs often face. “One of the biggest obstacles is simply not knowing what you don’t know. I’ve been able to learn from business owners who have looked at my business plan and asked questions I wouldn’t have thought of on my own,” says Pepper. “This program has given me the opportunity to practice running a business.”
An important aspect of the program is the mentor-mentee relationship. LEAP takes an intentional approach to recruit mentors and provides extensive training to provide thoughtful support to mentees. Two Consumers Energy employees have served as mentors in each cohort thus far. Pepper still meets regularly with his mentor, Doug Roberts, Consumers Energy’s director of stakeholder relations.
“A highlight of the program has been getting to know Byron and seeing how passionate he is about his business,” said Roberts.
Since graduating from the program, Pepper has continued to hone his business concept, search for funding sources, and is taking part in the Lansing Built to Last startup competition.
One of the program benefits LEAP cites on their website is lifelong membership in the One&All community. “I know I can call LEAP or Doug anytime for support,” said Pepper. “And I’m happy to support my classmates and do anything I can to help them.”
Information on the One&All program can be found at One&All – Lansing Economic Area Partnership (purelansing.com).