EDC grants $94K for Transformando program


Transformando’s program for minority businesses, which launched earlier this year, now is fully funded. Courtesy West Michigan Hispanic Chamber

A minority business program that launched earlier this year is fully funded for the next three years.

West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce received a three-year, $94,628 grant from the city of Grand Rapids’ Economic Development Corporation to support the first phase of its program, Transformando West Michigan, “Feeding Minds, Mouths and Pockets.”

The EDC is a board comprised of business and community leaders, including Guillermo Cisneros, executive director of the Hispanic chamber. His organization submitted the grant request to the EDC in July. Cisneros said he recused himself from the vote.

Phase one of Transformando launched in May and is focused on the food industry. Participants learn financial management principles and food safety requirements in six sessions. They also hear presentations by representatives from banks; insurance companies; and accounting, law and marketing firms; and they get one-on-one mentoring and help with their business plans. The Transformando program provides coaching, education, program materials and testing in Spanish.

The first cohort of 11 restaurants graduated last month.

The Wege Foundation provided a $167,000, three-year grant for the program, which initially was projected to cost $247,000 over three years.

With the EDC grant, Transformando’s three-year operating fund has risen to $261,628.

Cisneros said the grant will help the chamber pay for costs that exceeded the original estimate, such as the new program manager’s salary and benefits — budgeted as $214,228 over three years, according to documents filed with the city — and various other expenses.

“Really, this is a breath of fresh air for our organization,” Cisneros said. “It’s a way to tell the community we have a government that is making sure all of us advance together and all of us have a level playing field.”

He said West Michigan has many resources for entrepreneurs through foundations, nonprofits and economic development organizations, and the chamber’s goal is “to bridge the gap between the Latino business owners and these resources” through programs such as Transformando.

Kara Wood, managing director of economic development services for the city of Grand Rapids, said the EDC agreed to fund the program as part of its commitment to “collaborate with entrepreneurial support organizations to serve entrepreneurs at the neighborhood level, create new businesses and increase the diversity of business types downtown.”

The agreement follows the EDC’s decision to renew its support of two initiatives that strive to address economic disparity, workforce development, civic engagement and leadership development in the Latino community. The two one-year agreements include one with Ferris State University to support a training series for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs and another with the Hispanic chamber for its business workshop series, which is separate from Transformando.

“The commitment to fund service providers is kind of a partnership in growing the ecosystem,” Wood said. “The Hispanic chamber has really stepped up their efforts in helping small businesses. And one of the ways we support small businesses is to support service providers.”

She said the EDC will provide the funds to the Hispanic chamber after the chamber has incurred expenses — i.e., as a reimbursement grant. This approach is meant to ensure the chamber meets stated goals before receiving the money.

The agreement between the EDC and the chamber outlines the services, outcomes and reporting methods the chamber must follow under the agreement.

“They have to submit reports biannually, listing who participated, the number of businesses that increased proficiency in finance and food safety, information regarding the work of the program manager and feedback offered by participants in the program,” Wood said.

Program goals

The program goals the chamber set for each year of “Feeding Minds, Mouths and Pockets” are as follows:

1. Bring in 15 new or struggling businesses to train and connect to best practices.

2. Sixty percent of participating businesses must become more proficient in finances.

3. Eighty percent of participating businesses must become certified in food safety by the state of Michigan.

4. Eighty percent of the individuals participating must receive a certificate of participation.

Manager requirements

The program manager, Ana Jose, hired in August, is responsible for various tasks, including managing the initiative, keeping the program on time and on budget, measuring outcomes, documenting and reporting progress, connecting with stakeholders and building community partnerships.

The chamber will be expected to present information to the EDC about the program’s performance upon request, as well as biannually.

Phase one improvements

Cisneros said he and Jose are busy working on improvements that will benefit the next cohort of “Feeding Minds, Mouths and Pockets” participants.

“We got many requests from (the first group) and have identified different areas where they need support,” he said. “We are going to be working on the human resources piece, which was the main one we had requests on, along with the financial piece. It’s an ongoing process to have them learn accounting and financial management.”

He said the third most-frequent request — customer service training — will be addressed next year.

Future topics in phase one will include marketing, processes and technology.

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