Kristian Grant’s academy for young entrepreneurs fits nicely with her position on the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education. Photo by Johnny Quirin
Growing up, even if she never actually said she wanted to be an entrepreneur, the signs were always there Kristian Grant had big ideas that needed to get out.
Even as a kid, Grant always was devising some grand idea to change the status quo. If she and her friends were bored in the summertime, she was drawing up plans to find something to do. Sometimes, these plans went as far as not only coming up with activities for herself and her friends but also mapping out the total cost and logistics of doing them.
“My parents were always amazing about (telling) me that something (was) possible,” Grant said. “Maybe now I’d look back and say, ‘slow down, kid.’ But they never told me that things weren’t possible, so I find myself, even today, looking at things that are very far-fetched but always trying to find ways to make them work.”
A native of Grand Rapids, Grant returned to her hometown after graduating from Michigan State University’s James Madison College with a degree in social relations in policy. While at Michigan State, Grant founded a group called R.E.A.A.L., an acronym for “Radiating Excellence in All Areas of Life.” The group’s purpose was to establish a strong network of connections and relationships which could help members end up with careers in their fields of study.
So, when Grant graduated, she brought some of those ideals with her to Grand Rapids. Her experience founding and running R.E.A.A.L. inspired a desire to continue working in business development and turned out to be a precursor for Grant’s current passion project — Mini Mogul Group.
Grant began Mini Mogul Group in 2013, a result of her work with Junior Achievement and talking to countless children about the ins and outs of running a business.
“Through these talks, I was realizing that at the younger ages, we weren’t really teaching the fundamentals of business in a fun way that really felt innovative and flexible for the kids,” Grant said.
The crown jewel of Grant’s organization is Mini Mogul Academy, an eight-week course that teaches and prepares elementary school-aged students for a future in business ownership and contributing to a vibrant business economy as adults. Through a developed curriculum that focuses on the basics of entrepreneurship, Grant said the academy works to help students understand and develop an abbreviated — or “mini” — business plan. At the end of the course, students pitch their business plan in a format similar to the TV show “Shark Tank.”
“They seem to learn a lot, I learn so much about the depth that our kids must have at a very young age in order to facilitate these big ideas,” Grant said.
There’s something about the community around Grand Rapids that appealed to Grant. As a hometown girl, she already had a built-in love for the city and returning after school further activated that. In her eyes, there’s something about Grand Rapids that seems to foster innovation.
“Being a part of this amazing community is awesome in itself,” she said. “And having the opportunity to make history on a smaller scale and knowing that it’s possible to do that in your own community, that’s amazing.”
Mini Mogul Academy is one of several enterprises Grant started since returning to the area. In fact, Grant‘s family calls her a “serial entrepreneur,” because she can’t seem to stop herself from tackling the next big idea.
“Every business, I say, ‘This is the last one,’” Grant said. “And then I’ll fall in love with something else.”
Her first venture into entrepreneurship was Sydney’s Boutique, a women’s clothing store that started in LINC Community Revitalization’s business incubator in 2011 and eventually expanded into an Eastown storefront, where it was a staple until 2016.
After her stint as owner of Sydney’s, named for her daughter, Grant tried her hand at starting her own business incubator. 12 Oakes Business & Innovation Center was Grant’s way of trying to encapsulate the same feeling she gets when meeting with her business coach in Atlanta.
Grant said every time she leaves Atlanta, she always feels inspired to work and initiate change. But looking around Grand Rapids, she didn’t see many spaces that replicated that feeling.
“I wanted to see a space that felt innovative,” Grant said. “We have workspaces and co-workspace in Grand Rapids, but it still feels very corporate in a sense. So, I wanted to create a space that, when I walked in, it would spur that innovative work process for me, and it would push me to think outside the box.”
However, following a brief stint as owner of 12 Oakes, a successful campaign to serve on the Grand Rapids Public Schools board required Grant to refocus on her new responsibilities. So, instead of continuing to operate 12 Oakes, she hopes by getting the project off the ground, she laid some of the groundwork for another up-and-coming entrepreneur to pick up the football and run with it.
“There are a few things that are difficult about being a creative — for instance, you see something that other people can’t see yet,” Grant said. “To use 12 Oakes as an example, that’s something I wasn’t able to do. But I hope that by putting the idea out there and putting the energy out there, that will allow for someone else to do so. Because as a creative, you have to be okay with seeing someone else do it and be successful at it.”
Grant was elected to the GRPS board this past November, and she said her new role has brought her back to her first interests, in a sense. Where she studied policy at Michigan State and has always had a passion for creating policy and studying its effects on communities, she’s now in a position to enact policy changes.
“It really is a full circle moment coming back, and that’s kind of awesome,” Grant said.
Looking ahead to her future on the school board, Grant said she looks forward to finding a way to activate the community in ways that haven’t fully been explored. She hopes to connect Grand Rapids Public Schools with people — especially her peers, who are beginning to have children and become homeowners — who can make it a vibrant system that facilitates a stronger Grand Rapids.
“A real reflection of the community is the school system inside it,” Grant said. “We all have high hopes for our students and our schools, but I really want to see people become a part of those results. We get out what we put in, and I want to be a bridge for that.”
As for Mini Mogul, Grant still is churning out big ideas. She said she is hoping to expand the program even further, building on the successes of the organization’s annual summer camps and establishing a strong web platform which would spread Mini Mogul’s in-school programming to educators from other districts outside of Grand Rapids.
Grant said the hope is to spread Mini Mogul’s curriculum to encourage not only teachers, but also students from other areas, to learn and interact with each other.
“A big part of Mini Mogul is the co-construction of knowledge, or kids teaching kids,” she said. “And I want for us to help take that to another level.”