A number of businesses have set up shop in the LINC Business Center on Madison Avenue SE, which is just down the street from the organization’s headquarters. Photo by Mike Nichols
It only took one year for Kristian Grant, who had no business background, to research, start and own an independent, successful business.
What’s her secret?
Last November, Grant, along with seven other West Michigan entrepreneurs, became the first class in LINC Community Revitalization’s Business Incubator.
LINC, a Kent County neighborhood revitalization nonprofit, started its business incubator in 2011. One year later, seven new businesses have opened and approximately 30 more are in the pipeline.
The incubator is open to any willing entrepreneur in the Kent County area, said Jorge Gonzalez, LINC director of economic development. The program is designed to take three years to establish the entrepreneur with a strong and independent business.
“We do not just give out cash or guarantee access to capital, but we reduce cost, reducing the need for capital,” said Jeremy DeRoo, LINC co-executive director. “Our role is not to make an entrepreneur but to support entrepreneurs, to find people with that drive and passion and make an environment where they can succeed.”
LINC offers free business classes and mentoring to the entrepreneurs. The program also connects them with referrals to outside business sources, such as grants, legal aid and marketing support.
“If I knew there was an area I needed help with, they brought in someone to talk to me,” Grant said. “They were amazing at the aspect of, ‘You need help filling out paperwork by tomorrow? We’ll set you up with a lawyer.’ I did go to classes that were scheduled, but it was that part of the training that was wonderful for me.”
Entrepreneurs can work out of LINC’s spacious headquarters at 1167 Madison Ave. SE, with a $100 a month membership access to Wi-Fi, printing services, conference rooms and other materials, Gonzales said. For anywhere from $200 to $600 a month, LINC also houses the business startups at the organization’s business center just down the street at 1258 MadisonAve. SE
Grant’s women’s fashion apparel and jewelry store, Sydney’s Boutique, started there, as did LINC startups Southtown Guitar, Raider Tek Computer Repair, Radio Station GR 94.9 FM, Klipper Kingdom and Epic Emporium, which eventually closed. LINC also helped launch Sanchel’s Breakfast Anytime restaurant.
Eventually, Grant outgrew her LINC Business Center digs and last month moved to 1479 Lake Drive SE in Eastown. She still keeps in touch with the program that gave her a shot, she said, adding it’s comforting to know the LINC support staff still has her back.
“We are an independent, functioning business, but if I needed something, I could call,” Grant said. “It’s nice just knowing someone’s there. Starting a business is a huge first step. They took some of that pressure off.”
DeRoo said LINC’s presence is important in Kent County’s minority communities, which are often overlooked.
“In minority communities, entrepreneur opportunities are not explored enough. There’s a lot of talent that goes unnoticed,” DeRoo said. “I think there’s a disconnection in Grand Rapids that does fall along racial lines at times. It’s not malicious, but there’s a disconnect. We are named LINC because the core thing we need to do to restore community is to connect it.”
Grant agreed a disconnect was present in the system, saying it was hard for children growing up in minority neighborhoods to watch as every successful person eventually left the area for a better life. LINC is making a huge impact, she said, by keeping business in those neighborhoods and making a better life for those who live there.
“They’re taking people in the area and helping them become business owners and productive citizens, and they’re keeping them in the neighborhoods,” she said. “People can see that and kids need to grow up seeing that. It was a huge factor for me wanting to get involved.”