Dozens of micro-businesses receive major support in Kalamazoo grant program

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

The old-time notion of reinvesting in the community has found new form in $5,000 grants awarded recently to 90 local businesses.
A boxing academy, a guitar shop, a visual artist, a lawn care/landscaping service, a coffee shop, a chiropractor, and a carpentry shop were among the small businesses in 16 Kalamazoo neighborhoods to receive shares of $450,000 made available in the second annual Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grant program.
The program is the result of a partnership between the City of Kalamazoo and the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, with support from the City of Kalamazoo’s Foundation For Excellence.
“Micro-enterprises bring so much to our community,” Antonio Mitchell, community investment manager for the City of Kalamazoo, said in a press release. “When we invest in their success, we are not only investing in the entrepreneurs and employees behind them, but in the products, services, and businesses that we all enjoy and that make Kalamazoo the vibrant community it is.”
Carmen Jones says the grant was empowering for her. From Halal Handymen, Hamilton Law, and Hoodies Kazoo to Six Ducks Barber Shop, Stuffed Brain Studio and The Salty Owl Studio, the 90 grant recipients included more than one yoga studio, clothing sellers, used car dealerships, beauty services, counseling professionals, property managers, cleaning services and restaurants.
“These grants will make a powerful difference for the smallest businesses in Kalamazoo,” Natalie Saucedo, senior director of Strategy and Innovation for the regional United Way, said in the release. “We’re proud to be part of this unique and special effort with the City of Kalamazoo and the Foundation for Excellence.”
Micro-enterprises are businesses that have fewer than 10 employees and less than $1 million in annual revenues. In terms of satisfying community needs, the giving went a long way. Of 127 applications for funding that were submitted by a July 5 deadline, 35 were declared ineligible but 90 of the remaining 92 applications were approved.
A focus of the grants was support for women-owned businesses as well as micro-enterprises whose owners are Black, indigenous, or other people of color (BIPOC). They are entrepreneurs who have been especially hard hit by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and who have struggled to access funding compared to other businesses, according to the United Way.
Saucedo noted that many of this year’s grant recipients are entrepreneurs from historically under-resourced populations. According to the United Way:
• 57 grants (63 percent) went to business owners who identified as BIPOC or multiple races;
• 37 grants (41 percent) went to business owners who identified as women or non-binary;
• 78 grants (87 percent) went to businesses with 2020 revenues of less than $250,000.
A list of the Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grant recipients is available here.
“The grant helps us recoup some expenses we had for repairs that I paid out of my own pocket,” said Gregory Woods, co-owner of Grub N Stuff restaurant. “We are using the grant funds to replenish our building and make other investments in the business.”
Mae Risk, manager of Heirloom Arts LLC, said the funding will help her tattoo shop relocate into a new space.
“We have outgrown our current space, and this will allow us to grow our business,” Risk said. “We will use the grant funds to build out the new space with what we need and complete our new lease agreement.”

To qualify for the funding, businesses had to be for-profit enterprises that are at least one year old and located within the city of Kalamazoo. Awards were made to help provide businesses with working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses, or other similar expenses. Those who received grants in 2020, were not eligible for this year’s program.

“This funding helps us to bridge the gap until in-person events are possible again,” said Jason Meddaugh, owner of A.T. Guys LLC, a provider of technology products, services and training to help people who are blind or whose vision is severely impaired. “The grant money helps us ensure that we can continue to compensate our employees while also having the flexibility to bring in new inventory and prepare for future business expansion.”
Carmen James, owner of Fit Bella Vei, a provider of personal training and nutritional services, said, “I am truly grateful for this opportunity. A lot of support was offered during the grant process, which made it clear that the United Way wants as many people as possible to be able to take advantage of the grant. It is empowering for small business owners, especially for me as a Black female, to have this kind of support.”


Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.