Small biz 'Boot Camp' launched for aspiring entrepreneurs in Oakland County

A group of Pontiac and Oakland County business leaders, governments officials, and stakeholders gathered in downtown Pontiac on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 18, to celebrate the launch of a new program designed to better prepare would-be entrepreneurs in the microloan application process.

Called the Financial Literacy Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs, the program is free to all Oakland County resdents. The Boot Camp is funded in part by a $50,000 grant from Huntington Bank.

Oakland County's Financial Empowerment Center and JVS have partnered to administer the program.

Though a "Boot Camp" by name, the financial literacy program actually consists of private, one-on-one education and counseling sessions.

"Applying for business loans can be a daunting and overwhelming process," says Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner. "We're trying to make it more friendly and welcoming."

Oakland County residents can schedule a session with JVS, who will meet wherever it's convenient, be it the county's Pontiac offices, the JVS offices in Southfield, or a resident's local coffee shop.

"We believe that the best way to help people is to help people help themselves," said Paul Blatt, COO and executive vice president of JVS Detroit. "The boot camp does that."

JVS provides a number of services to those enrolled in the bootcamp. One-on-one financial literacy education and counseling will assist residents in better understanding budgeting, money management, profit and loss statements, expense tracking, cash flow, and other essential business skills.

Counselors will help resolve residents' credit collection or credit score issues. And counselors will provide assistance through the microloan application process. Microloans can range anywhere from $1,000 to $250,000.

James and April Forbes, the couple behind the Menagerie pop-up dinners, kitchen incubator, and forthcoming restaurant, spoke at the press conference. James and April are currently in the process of developing the restaurant Menagerie Lounge, which is scheduled to open in downtown Pontiac in February 2018. The couple was recently awarded a $35,000 Small Business Administration loan from Center for Empowerment and Economic Development.

Like Meisner, James Forbes also used the word daunting when describing the loan application process.

"It's daunting to have to put together business plans, P&Ls, financial projections," said James, who has 32 years of experience in the restaurant industry. "I can't imagine how people with zero experience go about approaching that process. That's why this boot camp is really important."

There are a lot of people in Oakland County that might have a good idea for a small business but just might not have the business know-how to fill out the forms and engage the banks, that might not have all of their personal finances in order. The boot camp was designed for those people in mind.

"We want the people that start the loan application process but don't finish, the people that applied but were rejected," Meisner said.

The press conference was held at 31 N. Saginaw St. in downtown Pontiac. The multi-level building is being renovated by owner Matt Russell, though the basement floor is currently occupied by Alley Cat Cafe and Indian Hill Wine Cellar. The building also serves as headquarters for Russell's event management platform LocalHop.

"I hope this program helps Michigan build more of an entrepreneurial mindset," said Russell. "Starting a company is stressful, scary, and hard, but it's worth it."

The Financial Literacy Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs is free to all residents of Oakland County. Interested parties should visit the Treasurer office online or call (248) 233-4299 for information about enrollment and services.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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