Kellogg Foundation panel explores importance of Detroit’s black entrepreneurs

“What we’re finding is there is tons of potential in the market,” LaJune Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of the foundation, said during a panel at the fifth annual Detroit Homecoming event held Thursday at the Lexus Velodrome in Detroit. “Employing all those not in the workforce today would create more than $3 trillion in GDP nationally and $36 billion today in GDP in Michigan. There’s an opportunity there because right now we’re leaving money on the table.”
That opportunity lies in giving people of color access through entrepreneurship, Montgomery Tabron said.

The panel included Regina Gaines, co-owner and founder of wine tasting room House of Pure Vin; Ron Bartell, president of popular eatery Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles and R&J Development; and Adrienne Bennett, president and CEO of plumbing contractor Benkari Mechanical LLC.The group shared the challenges of being black entrepreneurs.

Fireside Chat: Equity in Entrepreneurship with Mary Kramer, LaJune Tabron, Regina Gaines, Adrienne Bennett, and Ron Bartell from Atlas Industries on Vimeo.

Bartell, a former cornerback in the National Football League, recalled the inability to access capital from banks to build out his restaurant — which generated $2.3 million in sales last year.

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“I had assets, cash and other business interests,” Bartell said. “They looked at me like a football player, not a businessman. If a black male like me, with money and a good credit score, can’t get financed there’s a problem.”

Gaines, who was originally funded through capital raising and startup contests, sought out a black-owned bank, at the urging of her mentor Dan Gilbert, to gain access to the funds she needed to expand.

“I was buying product with cash and Dan said to me that I needed a credit line,” she said. “He told me to go to First Independence Bank. If it hadn’t been for First Independence, I’d be stuck somewhere I didn’t want to be.”

To aid businesspeople of color, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, which is also funded by W.K. Kellogg and other foundations, tripled available capital for loans to minority-owned small businesses in Detroit to more than $18 million in 2017.

“Collaboration is key going forward,” Montgomery Tabron said. “We could partner with the banking institutions and take a population they deemed unbankable, provide resources and wraparound services to prove that’s not right. We are leaving money on the table if we’re not making sure we’re cultivating the opportunity in this city.”