A new passion is rising in the small city of Benton Harbor, Michigan. It’s hemmed in expectant hope, evidenced in new dreams, and proven recently at Benton Harbor’s second annual Pitch Night for Black entrepreneurs, a community event hosted by Mosaic CCDA, a local community development and transformation center and Whirlpool Corporation.
“The next great idea is in this very room. Why not here? Why not Benton Harbor?”, said Gabrielle Engle, COO of Mosaic CCDA. “I’m betting on these entrepreneurs who demonstrate the passion and grit required to build a new future for our city, one business at a time. We are grateful for our funders who have supported us in creating a platform for voices to be heard and dreams to be realized.”
The first Benton Harbor Pitch Night was held in 2021 as a collaboration between Mosaic and Whirlpool Corp.’s volunteer Microgrant Workstream, one of sixteen workstreams formed in 2020 through its Multi-Year U.S. Action Plan and Equality Pledge, a commitment to business and community support in its headquarters’ community.
I’m betting on these entrepreneurs who demonstrate the passion and grit required to build a new future for our city, one business at a time.”
“Many in our community have had to innovate out of sheer necessity, so we knew great ideas were pulsing in the hearts of the people,” said Kathy Craig, who led one of the Microgrant teams. “We began with nine months of just listening. We met with potential, failed, and successful Black business owners in the community to better understand challenges, barriers, and hear more about their dreams.
We then concluded the most impactful and sustainable solutions were already planted at the grassroots level. Our work was to build trust and heal perceptions. We were not just working to fulfill a commitment through a pledge, but to develop authentic relationships, learn one another’s stories, and support solid organizations like Mosaic that were already doing great things in the community. We simply needed to continue leaning in, listening, and learning.”
In one short year much more has emerged – literally and figuratively – from those relationships. The collaboration between Mosaic and Whirlpool Corp created a springboard for a newly formed non-profit: Emerge Innovation Hub, led by key community stakeholders including Mosaic, Whirlpool Corp. employees, Kinexus, Guardiian, Andrews University, PNC Bank and Urban Ministries. Emerge exists to create diverse communities by empowering historically underserved and underrepresented entrepreneurs to start and run their businesses in southwest Michigan. It now hosts monthly hangouts for practical education and networking, with plans to launch a fellowship program in 2023 for five local entrepreneurs.
For Candi Purdiman, children’s author, business owner of “Kids Read Too,” and grand prize winner of the 2022 pitch competition, the microgrant will enable her to have more books illustrated and published, build a website to promote them, and launch a reading initiative for children. As a childhood cancer survivor, Purdiman writes books to help children, particularly those of color, cope with grief, loss and issues they face today.
Additional winners included Tim and Olivia Nichols, owners of “ShowTime Customs,” a clothing company, and Jasmnika Newbern, owner of “Jaszy Jars, LLC.” Jasmnika helps people stay hydrated with fresh fruit smoothies, lemonade and flavored drinks.