Eleven small businesses in Pontiac are the recipients of Flagstar Bank’s first round of business investment grants and loans, totaling $125,000 in grants and a $35,000 loan.
The Pontiac Big Idea Grant Program is committed to investing $700,000 per year into Pontiac over five years. Of the total $3.5 million overall planned investment, approximately $500,000 will be allocated in the form of grants and $250,000 in the form of business loans, with an average grant size of $10,000 and an average loan size of $5,000 to $25,000. The disbursement is being leveraged through a partnership with CEED Lending, a Small Business Administration lender.
“We’re pleased to see our efforts to support small businesses in Pontiac turn into real dollars to help entrepreneurs in the community,” says Alessandro DiNello, president, and CEO of Flagstar Bank. “This is how the program is supposed to work. We look forward to similar success with future disbursements of our $10 million commitment to the city.”
Grant applications are reviewed by a ten-person community-based Advisory Council.
“We have committed that the people of Pontiac will own the grant/loan program, for Pontiac. Flagstar will not make decisions on the grant/loans,” says Beverly Meek, vice-president and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) director at Flagstar Bank. “Therefore we have developed an Advisory Council that is comprised of smart people who live or work in Pontiac and have demonstrated leadership and consistent commitment to the people of Pontiac.“
Grant awards will be provided monthly following a review from the advisory council. The criteria to receive a grant is the business must be in Pontiac and be a for-profit business.
“The grant application is intended to be easy therefore there are only five questions which ask what the money is to be used for, how it will help Pontiac, how it will help the applicant and whether the idea can create jobs in Pontiac,” says Meek. “We have also learned through hundreds of interviews that to be successful; we need to also invest in the business ecosystem in Pontiac to ensure business owners have the support they need to develop a strong business and keep those businesses growing.“
Flagstar Bank’s investment will also include providing grants to the City of Pontiac to help their website become a one-stop destination for prospective entrepreneurs, and will support the Main Street Pontiac program to focus on improving the downtown area and unifying businesses together toward a common goal of creating business opportunity in the city.
Willetrea Washington is one of the grant recipients, she began her business, Washington Events, seven years ago with a focus on corporate and political event planning and women’s empowerment. She bills herself “the corporate savior.” For Washington, Pontiac is home.
Willetrea Washington“I am a resident, and now a business owner, in the city of Pontiac. I am a graduate of Pontiac Central. Go Chiefs!” she laughs. Washington will be using the grant money to hire and secure an office location in Pontiac and be a part of the nascent revitalization. “The one thing that we never lost was the fact that we're still a family in Pontiac. There is the spirit in Pontiac that's awesome.”
Roni Leibovich, the founder of Numbers Brothers, works on helping businesses understand their data to support better decisions. He decided to locate in Pontiac primarily for the location and recently hired his first full-time employee. With the help of his $10,000 grant, he plans to hire and secure licensing and technology for 2018.
“I love the centrality of Pontiac,” says Leibovich. “I love the proximity of Pontiac. I live in West Bloomfield, so it's a short commute. I have clientele from downtown Detroit all along Woodward to Bloomfield Hills, and being in Pontiac allows me to stay central to my clients.”Roni Leibovich
Ben Carr of AdLocal, a digital marketing agency, is using his $10,000 award to upgrade technology. “That's really what the money's going towards, making sure that we have the right equipment, a couple of new computers,” he says. “We did a really big upgrade.”
Carr and Leibovitch are also using portions of their grants to rehab a space at 7 North Saginaw, Suite 300 into a coworking space called PontiacTribe, as well as to build their businesses. PontiacTribe charges $150 per month for drop-in and $350 for a dedicated workspace.
“The place needed to be upgraded, it smelled really bad, it was a dirty space,” says Carr. “But you go in there now, and you would never imagine what it looks like compared to what it looked like before.”
Ben CarrThe business grants are part of a larger $10 million commitment by Flagstar to invest in Pontiac. Including $5 million in home ownership mortgage products with an emphasis on veterans and addressing the appraisal gap in Pontiac. The investment also includes $1 million to fund financial capacity-building programs to assist low-income households and a $1.5 million investment in the renovation of the Flagstar Strand Theater.
“We want to have an impact on economic development in Pontiac; we didn't want to be sporadic with investments that did not feed into an overall strategy to help the infrastructure and support economic development in the area,” says Meek. “So we decided to develop what we call a comprehensive community impact program, and that requires us to be here long-term. We want to have this program spur the creation of jobs and to attract small businesses and mid-size businesses to Pontiac, and we want to create an environment where all income levels can thrive.”
“I think young professionals need to see that there is a real working model and a real economy and a real area for opportunity in Pontiac, to want to stay here,” says Carr. “I think the ingredients are ripe for growth, especially with opportunities like Flagstar infusing capital back into the entrepreneur.
The first round of grants and loans include the following:
Sprout Fresh Food Store - $10k
Detroit Sewn - $10k
AdLocal - $10k
Need to Talk - $10k
Cartier Rose - $10k
Mitten Made - $10k
Numbers Brothers - $10k
McNeal Automotive - $10k
Enrichment Programs - $10k
Washington Events - $10k
Menagerie Lounge ($35k loan and $25k grant)