MUSKEGON — Starting a business can be difficult, which Denise Kanaar is learning.
But Kanaar, co-owner of D&D Logistics LLC, is getting some vital help from the Muskegon Area First Whetstone Project, a business incubator meant to help small businesses make it through the pitfalls and complications that may occur when starting out.
“You don’t know if you’re going to fall on your face. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
D&D Logistics, a freight brokering company, began in April and has since tripled its space in the Whetstone building — and its customer base.
Tenants of Whetstone get free financial, accounting and legal services. Rent depends on the amount of space the business is using; it starts at $225 a month, including utilities (except for phone lines). Tenants also qualify for a free membership to the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce.
Larry Van Haitsma, Kanaar’s business partner, said the Whetstone Project is a good way for entrepreneurs to make the transition into owning a business.
“They work with you to get the business started,” he said.
Kanaar and Van Haitsma, who has 20 years of experience in transportation companies, decided to go into business together after realizing they were both ready to take a step ahead in their careers. Van Haitsma was ready to own a company instead of running one; Kanaar wanted a change from education.
“I knew I wanted to be done with teaching and I was looking for a different career,” she said.
Kanaar said the work is much different from her 30 years with the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District. Now she is on-call 24 hours a day to make sure that shipments are being made and clients are receiving what they need.
“It’s constant, it’s every day,” she said.
Eugenia Hill-Brown, Muskegon Area First business development specialist and Whetstone manager, said the program is a good resource for businesses like D&D Logistics. She is hoping to get more people to take advantage of the opportunities Whetstone offers.
“I think that it’s a really good program that probably has not been tapped into by a lot of businesses, probably because they are not aware of it,” she said.
Hill-Brown said Whetstone is now at 50 percent occupancy, with the opportunity for four more tenants to rent space.
“We try to provide the facility as well as a range of services that would increase the chance for startup businesses to be a little more successful in our market by giving them lower overhead so they won’t have those things to worry about,” she said.
One of the recent success stories of Whetstone is Derrick Knox and his company, Gold Shield Transportation.
“He grew right up out of there,” Hill-Brown said.
Knox operated his business out of the Whetstone building for three years before moving to its current location at 3375 Merriam St. Knox said his business has also tripled since he took part in the program, which helped him find his current insurance agent, accountant, bookkeeper and more.
“They had a lot of knowledge and information that I needed to know,” he said of Whetstone.
Knox said the program was good for his business — which specializes in motor coaches and tours — and good for Muskegon.
“If they can help you get on your feet and stay on your feet, that brings more income into Muskegon,” he said.
Businesses can use the space for two years, with an option to renew for a third year depending on their resources.
“We have an interview process: We talk, we meet, I show them the facility, and we talk about what their business is,” Hill-Brown said. “We look at their needs and what they have available.”
Knox said he would not hesitate to use the program again with a new business, or to recommend it to anyone else.
“I think it’s an excellent project,” he said. “But people need to know more about it.”