Business incubator for women of color expands, welcomes second cohort

The Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living's (CIL) EmpowerYou program is moving full steam ahead with a second cohort starting later this month.


The free program, which started in April, is designed to help women of color start their own businesses. While it has been primarily funded by a grant from the New Economy Initiative, a new grant from United Way of Washtenaw County has allowed the program to expand to serve more women.


"Part of the grant money is geared toward outreach and translation of materials for the local Arabic and Spanish-speaking populations. So we are now able to target these underserved audiences," says William Purves, the CIL's director of planning and program development.


Purves says the grant (secured in early July) is testimony that community members value the program's importance and recognize the need for the EmpowerYou program.


"One of the positive things that we have experienced so far has been that people are seeing us as a really invested participant on the very serious matter of income disparity," Purves says.


He adds that he has noticed that community members are appreciating the CIL as an agency willing to take on a challenge to benefit the county.


"It's risky to start something brand new, but we've taken our learning over the past 10 to 12 years and crafted a program that really tries to provide the support that is needed beyond a series of PowerPoints or a couple of workshops or a single class," Purves says. "EmpowerYou has a timeline of multiple months and provides comprehensive professional support services like accounting, graphic design, and legal assistance."


Feedback from the program's first cohort has been powerful motivation for the CIL to continue to deliver. Roughly a dozen women have gone through the program and another dozen are expected in the next round.


"The passion and enthusiasm from the women we've helped so far has been great. We've heard that it means so much that we're taking their businesses and business plans seriously by supporting them and putting time and energy towards them," says Purves. "We really do take them seriously and value them. And when they finish the program we want to see them emerge on the other side successful."


Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at