BATTLE CREEK, Mich. – The Washington Heights Entrepreneurial Fund (WHEF) is bolstering the community and an ambitious group of entrepreneurs-of-color through the distribution of $2 million in business support targeted at the Washington Heights neighborhood. Award recipients receive training, grants and low-interest loans for business and real estate development projects.
“We are truly grateful to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for this opportunity, and we are grateful for our incredibly dedicated and focused grantees and the team that reviewed and selected them,” said Joe Sobieralski, President and CEO of BCU. “These recipients have put in months of hard work to get to this stage. We’re delighted to see them accelerate and we can’t wait to see the results.”
The $2 million program, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was established by Battle Creek Unlimited (BCU) in partnership with New Level Sports Ministries (NLSM). The fund prioritizes low-to-middle income Black, Hispanic, and Burmese individuals, who have traditionally had limited access to capital. Eleven projects will receive funding to support businesses ranging from a counseling center to a funeral home to an urban arts incubator.
“This award is so important because it gives us a platform to expand on what we’ve already been doing,” said grantee Jaziel Pugh, founder of Urban Arts Incubator. “This is important for my business as well as Battle Creek because all businesses will benefit from having a space to be creative.”
WHEF projects were awarded after an initial cohort of applicants completed several months of business classes. The free courses, offered by the Michigan Small Business Development Center, helped participants strengthen their business plans and cash flow projections, positioning their business for sustainable growth. Washington Heights was selected because it is adjacent to downtown Battle Creek, the focal point of much recent redevelopment, and at 67% of the population, Washington Heights is the largest concentration of Black residents in Battle Creek.
“Historically, communities of color have been shut out of business loans and financing,” said Pastor Chris McCoy of New Level Sports Ministries. “This program is an important step in bringing opportunity to Black, Hispanic and Burmese entrepreneurs. It will help level the playing field for business owners and improve the Washington Heights community.”
Projects fall under real estate or business categories. Applicants were eligible for grants of up to $300,000 for real estate-only improvements. Business applicants were eligible for low-interest loans of up to $150,000, with the possibility of forgiveness, for viable startups and existing businesses. A single applicant could be funded in both areas, but total grants will not exceed $350,000.
“This fund is transformative for the entrepreneurial community of Battle Creek,” said Devon Wilson, founder of Sunlight Gardens. “This program empowers entrepreneurs with the skills and resources they need to be successful.”
Hexxon Villa, founder of Hexx Design was provided with support to develop an expansion plan for his business. “This grant will allow us to create an affordable pricing model so we can provide services for those who need it the most,” he said. “This program provides entrepreneurs at any stage with the tools to reach the next level.”
The list of 2022 WHEF Recipients includes:
- Brilliant Minds Family Counseling – Keith Matthews, Brook-Lyn Glass
- Sherrill Cotton Funeral & Cremation – Sherrill Cotton
- Hexx Design Co – Hexxon Villa, Juliet Villa, David Niniz, Javier Fortoso Jr.
- The Link – Tonesha Heath
- New Level Church – Dr. Gregory Dotson
- Simply Sensational Berries – Markeeta Haddley, Craig Owens
- Sunlight Gardens – Devon Wilson
- Tommy & Co – Marcus Willis
- Urban Arts Incubator – Taylor McCoy, Jaziel Pugh, Iroham Ekeledo, Carolyn Washington, Marcus Ervin
- VIATAG – Jeffrey Cotton
- West End Kitchen – Sidney Ekeledo, Treione Barlow
“The interest in this program has been overwhelming,” Sobieralski said. “The fund is a first of its kind, and we hope its’ demonstrated success will change the dynamics for those who have been traditionally excluded from conventional business development practices.”
“This grant will allow us to create an affordable pricing model so we can provide services for those who need it the most,” said Hexxon Villa, founder of Hexx Design Co. “This program provides entrepreneurs at any stages with the tools to reach the next level. We are extremely grateful to have been a part of the first class.”
ABOUT BATTLE CREEK UNLIMITED
Established in 1972, Battle Creek Unlimited (BCU) is a private, nonprofit corporation that serves as the economic development arm for the City of Battle Creek and manages the Fort Custer Industrial Park. The Fort Custer Industrial Park is home to over 80 businesses, including 25 international companies, and employs over 13,000 people. BCU’s mission is to build a strong community by driving strategic investment and job creation.
ABOUT NEW LEVEL SPORTS MINISTRIES
Established in 2001, New Level Sports Ministries is a nonprofit, youth support-service committed to developing purpose-driven individuals who will be highly effective in all aspects of life. Our success is achieved by utilizing five foundational pillars: education, personal growth, arts, industry, and sports. Over the past 20 years, New Level Sports Ministries has served over 17,000 urban youths and their families. We believe every young person, despite his or her background, can develop and achieve their goals and dreams.