ProsperUS helps southwest Detroit entrepreneurs climb aboard $3.9 billion economic engine

ProsperUS helps southwest Detroit entrepreneurs climb aboard $3.9 billion economic engine
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Two women who share the front office at Caesar Chavez Academy in Southwest Detroit are planning their dream jobs, swapping recipes and taking nighttime entrepreneurial classes while serving the children at this bilingual school.

Laura Rebollar, the school’s community liaison, owns Tacos Ver-de-licious, a taco company that errs on the side of healthy. She has dreams of adding a food truck that can visit music and outdoor festivals, and opening a storefront restaurant.

According to the State of Michigan’s Office for New Americans, Michigan is home to nearly 11,000 Hispanic-owned businesses, which report $3.9 billion in annual revenue and employ nearly 19,000 residents.

Laura Viera Alvarado, office manager, wants greater visibility for Tropical Sweet Cakes, the baked-from-scratch, custom cakes that run up to $1,500 with all the finery on top and often pineapple-mango in the center.

The classes they are taking at ProsperUs can help them achieve those dreams.

ProsperUS is an entrepreneurial training and small business lending program for Detroit residents, particularly those who are African-American, Arab-American or Latino. A Southwest Solutions initiative, it offers a 20-week program that teaches business planning, marketing, legal ramifications and pitch work. Graduates compete for stipends up to $3,000 to help open a storefront and furnish it. A micro-lending program could provide an additional $15,000 to successful businesses.

ProsperUS Director Channell Scott Contreras is looking for bilingual entrepreneurs in Southwest Detroit who want to invest in their future through supported business growth. Photo courtesy of ProsperUS

“We’re targeting bilingual entrepreneurs in Southwest Detroit – people who want to invest in their future,” says Channell Scott Contreras, director of ProsperUS.

The notion of entrepreneurial classes, pitch competitions and cash prizes is creating a boom of entrepreneurs throughout Southwest Detroit and the city at large. Here at Caesar Chavez Academy one dreamer became two when Rebollar, shared her hopes with Viera Alvarado.

Between requests for a hug, a pencil or directions from students in pig tails and bow ties, Rebollar tells of using nopales (a Mexican cactus), organic chicken and Halal meats to make the tacos tasty for the community along Vernor Highway, her home for decades. She spends her spare time in the library researching healthy oils and seasoning to help customers stay well while eating their favorite foods.

Her research into healthy recipes and additives may help ward off diabetes and kidney ailments that disturb the Latino community, she adds.

Laura Viera Alvarado (left)  is spicing up her retirement plans with dreams of turning a home cooking businesses into  a thriving operation. Photo by Juan Carlos Perez

Over the years Rebollar, a widow, has raised her children and augmented her income by importing crafts from Mexico and selling taquitos at festivals in her food truck.  She has been pleasing her family with tacos and taquitos for decades.

“All the family flocks to my house,” she says quite humbly.

She found creating the taco company augmented her income, tucking more away for retirement when she could devote herself to cooking full time.

When she retires she’ll take the big leap, knowing ProsperUs will be there for her and other entrepreneurs completing the training course. She finds encouraging people and multiple resources are there for the asking.

Her co-worker, Viera-Alvarado, tackles a mountain of paperwork, then pauses to show cell phone pictures of cakes so fanciful they could have popped out of Martha Stewart Living.

“There’s a particular Latin taste for sweet, tropical fillings,” says Viera-Alvarado, who grew up in Puerto Rico where her aunt ran the Vipe Bakery in San Juan and she was able to watch all the ingredients form into something luscious.

ProsperUS helps entrepreneurs like Tropical Sweet Cakes Founder Laura Viera Alvarado turn her talents into a business enterprise. Photo by Juan Carlos Perez

She works diligently to serve her community with cakes for weddings, graduations and other celebrations and makes three or four cakes each weekend. Requests are mounting as word of her creativity spreads throughout the community.

Viera-Alvarado will take the Spanish cohort at ProsperUS this month when classes resume.

Both women will attend the ProsperUs expo on November 15 when candidates, including Rebollar, bring their food samples and products, prepare a powerful pitch and compete for prizes of $1,000, $2,000 and a grand prize of $3,000. The prizes would be enough to open the storefront and welcome customers.

Viera-Alvarado hasn’t completed her course so she won’t have her food on display.

“We are proud to partner with Urban Neighborhood Initiatives and the Vista Partnership who host our training in Southwest Detroit,” says Scott Contreras. “It is through these partnerships that we are able to work towards our mission of providing opportunities for individuals like Laura Rebollar and Laura Viera-Alvarado and families to achieve greater economic success through entrepreneurship.

“We are excited about all the talent Southwest Detroit has to offer and look forward to supporting both entrepreneurs in their future business endeavors, whether it be through training, business services, or our micro-lending program.”

SHARK-LIKE SKILLS

Entrepreneurs in Southwest Detroit have a host of organizations offering classes and support for their ventures, including reality-show competitions like “Shark Tank.”

  • ProsperUs offers stipends for scholarships, 20-week classes and pitch competitions. Classes could run
    as low as $75 or $150 depending on household income. email prosperus@swsol.org or visit
    www.prosperusdetroit.org.
  • Build Institute offers eight-week classes on Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in starting a business, licensing, market research, cash flow and financial literacy. Lessons occur at the Southwest Detroit location.
    Visit BuildInstitute.org.
  • Hatch Detroit, sponsored by Comerica, offers up to a $50,000 grant to open a brick-and-motor retail business in Detroit, Highland Park or Hamtramck through a partnership with community development organizations and groups like ProsperUs to apply for loans and compete in crowd funding efforts.
    Visit Hatchdetroit.com.
  • Motor City Match has given nearly $4 million to support 100 new and expanding small businesses through competitions every three months, sponsored by Mayor Mike Duggan’s office. These businesses could bring more than 700 new jobs to the city. Motor City Match also provides help to entrepreneurs in writing a business plan, finding a space or planning a renovation. Three southwest businesses won awards in Round 8 of the competition, Vernor MC, $45,000, The Vernor Cafe, $35,000, and PizzaPlex, $25,000. Visit Motorcitymatch.com.
Small shops are the mainstay of our neighborhoods. Open the door and look inside and you will discover dreamers and doers who embody the spirit and energy of Detroit’s entrepreneurial class. We invite you to meet them inside our Small Shops series, sponsored by Bank of America.

Editor’s Note: This Small Shops business profile is supported by Bank of America.

 

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