Detroit-based Build Institute has licensed its basic entrepreneurial education curriculum to a Fort Wayne, Ind., group working to develop an entrepreneurial system there.
At the same time, it’s expanding its classes and select entrepreneur support programs to other cities in Southeast Michigan, starting with Pontiac and Hazel Park.
Build is in the pilot phase of scaling its programs through an effort dubbed “Build Cities.” The three cities are enabling it to test different models for bringing its programs to other communities.
The three cities are the first to see Build classes outside of Detroit, but leaders in other places have also expressed interest, said Build Founder and Executive Director April Boyle.
Build has fielded queries from local communities including Ferndale, Harper Woods, Clarkston and Port Huron, and also from two other Indiana cities as well as Liverpool, England.
“We’re getting on the map for equitable and inclusive entrepreneur support, reaching … women and communities of color,” who often face barriers to starting their own businesses, Boyle said.
Other communities are looking to replicate Build Institute’s grass roots talent development and entrepreneurial ecosystem, Boyle said.Taking its programs to new areas of need aligns with Build’s mission, she said.
It also presents an opportunity for new, earned revenue for a nonprofit that relies on foundation support for more than half of its budget.
Launched seven years ago as a program of D-Hive within the Downtown Detroit Partnership, Build looks at entrepreneurship as a path out of poverty, a way to help build wealth and ownership for people of color, said Boyle.
At the core of its offerings is an eight-week business and project-planning class taught by local small business owners and held in neighborhoods to ensure it’s accessible. Classes are taught by local experts and cover all the basics of starting a business — from licensing to financial literacy, market research to cash flow and more. They bring in speakers including a lawyer, accountant or bookkeeper to talk about numbers, a marketing expert and a funder to tell them what funders look for and to talk about the funding available to them.
Participants leave the class with a completed business plan, a cohort of fellow entrepreneurs in Detroit, and the knowledge to take their idea to the next level. The classes — which cost $500 but are adjusted according to what each entrepreneur can pay — are aimed at small businesses with fewer than five employees and revenue of less than $100,000.
Beyond the classes, Build’s offerings have grown to include a suite of programs supporting small businesses, including networking events, Detroit Soup events that build awareness and help raise funding, assistance in raising capital through Kiva Detroit, opportunities to test concepts through pop-up markets and continuing education programs.
Build Institute became an independent nonprofit in January 2018 and is preparing to move this summer to The Corner development at the former Tiger Stadium site in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Its new location will include pop-up retail space it didn’t have to lease to entrepreneurs in the past.
Since its launch in 2012, 1,700 people have graduated from its Build Basics classes, with over 550 businesses and 1,200 jobs created, according to Build Institute.
Of those participating in its programs, 70 percent were women and 60 percent were people of color.
Build has helped 50 of those entrepreneurs raise a total of more than $350,000 through the Kiva Detroit platform. Its graduates have gone on to secure over $2 million in funding through Motor City Match, Hatch Detroit, NEIdeas, Detroit Demo days and other microgrant programs.
As it prepares to move into its new home this summer, Build is working to take its programs to the three pilot cities. Each is operating on a different model.
There’s a very strong regional push for entrepreneurial and small business in Fort Wayne and the surrounding region, said Trois Hart, director of Seed Fort Wayne, a quasi-government, nonprofit entity that manages targeted revitalization efforts for a seven-square-mile area of neighborhood corridors and industrial areas in Fort Wayne.
“Northeast Indiana understands the strength and power of entrepreneurship, and for our program, in particular … there’s a natural tie there that we believe is a strategy to improve opportunities for everybody in the region.”
Last August, the Greater Fort Wayne economic development corporation and JP Morgan Chase & Co. sponsored a trip for Fort Wayne leaders to Detroit to look at redevelopment happening here, with a focus on the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Its tour included stops to learn about Motor City Match, Ponyride and Build Institute, Hart said. Seed liked Build’s curriculum and its focus on access for women and people of color.
“We think they’ve figured out every aspect of equitable entrepreneur development (to connect) underconnected individuals to business development opportunities,” Hart said.
Seed licensed the Build Basics curriculum for a year and in late February hosted representatives from Build Institute to train 10 facilitators or teachers for the classes in Fort Wayne.
Build contracted with part-time consultant Rachele Downs, founder of economic and community development consultancy Downs Diversity Initiatives LLC, to assist in taking the Build Cities program to other cities.
Seed is initially planning 10 cohorts of the eight-week classes which are set to launch this spring but could add more if demand is there, Hart said.
Build Basics is a tool to help people organize their inspiration and get them on a path, Hart said. Seed plans to expand on the classes by plugging participants into a larger ecosystem after they graduate to further support creation of businesses, Hart said, with workshops providing a deeper dive into their business plans, networking opportunities, mentoring and other activities, she said.
Build is charging other cities outside of Detroit between $10,000 and $30,000 in annual fees to bring the eight-week training classes and any other programs selected to their communities, Boyle said. It’s offering, for additional fees, access to its other programs like the Open Cities monthly networking events and Detroit Soup, along with additional consulting on best practices around launching the programs and building their ecosystems.
Build is operating on a budget of just under $1 million this year. About 55 percent of its revenue is foundation grants, 25 percent earned revenue and the remaining 20 percent is split between individual and corporate support, Boyle said.
The hope is that Fort Wayne and other cities that license the Build Basics program will renew the license after the first year, she said. “Being a nonprofit, (we’re) looking for earned revenue models that would give us more sustainability.”
Build plans to seek long-term funding as it rolls out the Build Cities initiative beyond the pilot, she said.
Closer to home, Build is providing facilitators for classes in other cities and developing models to fund the programs.
In Pontiac, Flagstar Bancorp Inc. (NYSE: FBC) made a $26,000 grant to pilot Build Basics and a Pontiac Soup program, as part of its $10 million commitment to economic development in the city.
Classes launched in mid-February with 16 entrepreneurs. Tameka Ramsey — a graduate of Build and owner of T. Ramsey and Associates, a Pontiac-based consulting firm specializing in training, branding and empowering nonprofits — is serving as facilitator.
Unlike Fort Wayne, there’s no licensing agreement in Pontiac, Boyle said.
“We were asked to come through Flagstar Bank … they are trying to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pontiac.”
Build Basics classes and possibly a networking or fundraising event are expected to launch this summer in Hazel Park.
Under that agreement, the city will fund half the costs of the program for a year, and Build will secure a match from a local funder for the other half, Boyle said.
There’s still work to be done here in Detroit to ensure under-served populations of entrepreneurs can access the microloans and other supports now available to them, as a recent report commissioned by NEI pointed out.
“But our … neighborhood, place-based small business ecosystem is pretty far along compared to other places around the country,” said Matthew Lewis, communications officer for NEI.
“Detroit is actually leading in the network behaviors, acting as an ecosystem … they are collaborating not competing.”
Build Institute’s expansion out of state is a testament to its hard work and effectiveness at building communities of entrepreneurs, Lewis said. Build does “a great job of helping people with an idea … take that idea somewhere.”
It validates entrepreneurs and their ideas and helps them think critically about what they’re trying to accomplish, not just through instructors but also through peers, Lewis said.
“That sets them up for success.”