Foundation fund

$2 million awarded to 11 businesses through the Washington Heights Entrepreneurial Fund

Jaziel Pugh, 26, worked hard to build a business out of a passion for art.

He has been creating art publicly in Battle Creek for six years. He did murals downtown and at the Binder Park Zoo. He has also participated in the Color the Creek festival and currently has his own art exhibit at Kellogg Community College.

Now, with funding from the Washington Heights Entrepreneurial Fund, he’s set to launch the Urban Arts Incubator, a space to access art in Battle Creek by offering consultation, assistance, and commissioning for projects. artistic.

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“It’s a game-changer,” he said. “This grant here is someone opening the door…and that’s inspiring.”

Pugh’s Urban Arts Incubator is one of 11 Battle Creek businesses to receive funding through the Washington Heights Entrepreneurial Fund. The $2 million program, funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation, was created last year by Battle Creek Unlimited and New Level Sports Ministries.

The fund prioritizes low-to-middle income Black, Hispanic and Burmese people, who have traditionally had limited access to capital.

“A local economy needs the participation of all members of the community,” said Joe Sobieralski, President and CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited. “Members of the BIPOC community have always been excluded from opportunity, so we actually created the metrics to try to address some of these inequalities that have happened over the decades.”

The Washington Heights neighborhood was chosen because it is adjacent to downtown Battle Creek, the focal point of very recent redevelopment, and at 67% of the population, Washington Heights has the highest concentration of black residents in Battle Creek.

“Historically, communities of color have been excluded from business loans and funding,” Pastor Chris McCoy of New Level Sports Ministries said in a press release. “This program is an important step in providing opportunities for Black, Hispanic and Burmese entrepreneurs. This will help level the playing field for business owners and improve the Washington Heights community.

Nearly 40 people applied to be part of the initial cohort.

“We were a bit overwhelmed when it started,” Sobieralski said. “That probably explains why it took so long, because we wanted to make sure we got it right.”

Prior to receiving funding, applicants completed several months of on-the-job training. The free courses, offered by the Michigan Small Business Development Center, helped participants strengthen their business plans and cash flow projections, positioning their business for sustainable growth.

Applicants were eligible for grants of up to $300,000 for home improvements only. Applicant companies were eligible for low-interest loans of up to $150,000, with the possibility of forgiveness, for viable startups and existing businesses. Only one applicant could be funded in both areas, but the total grants did not exceed $350,000.

The funding Pugh received will be enough to launch his business and grow his brand, which is an opportunity he didn’t necessarily expect to get.

“Just to have the space and the equipment. To have a business…” he said. “As a young African-American man, I don’t know many people who have had the opportunities that I have had. So I’m very grateful.”

Devon Wilson, owner of Sunlight Gardens in Washington Heights, also received funding from the program. Wilson launched his Urban Farm in 2020 and has been working to increase access to locally grown food ever since.

Devon Wilson pulls weeds with his cat Pearl inside a hoop where he grows tomatoes Wednesday, July 15, 2020 at his Sunlight Gardens farm in Battle Creek, Michigan.  This year, Wilson purchased the urban farm in Washington Heights where he originally learned to grow food.

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“This is our first mission,” Wilson said. “It will definitely help us accomplish this mission – grow our business, hire additional staff.”

The money will also be used to upgrade the farm’s infrastructure, which will allow Sunlight Gardens to meet the demand for local produce in local restaurants and daycares. Eventually, Wilson said Sunlight Gardens would love to be able to provide food to local schools.

For Wilson, increasing local access to food in Battle Creek is about more than providing fresh produce.

Farmer Devon Wilson prepares for a thunderstorm on May 27, 2020 at his Sunlight Gardens farm in Battle Creek, Michigan.

“It really takes power away from us,” Wilson said. “I truly believe that mastering the food system, or the relationship with food, what we eat, what we put into our bodies, and how we spend our money on food is directly related to the power we have to live a life. healthy and happy.”

He sees his business as a springboard for building community.

“We have to start with the foundation, and I believe that good, water and shelter are essential to life, and food is where we start right now,” he said.

This month, Sunlight Gardens is also launching a partnership with the nonprofit RISE to distribute 300 care boxes to Washington Heights United Methodist Church. The boxes, which will contain personal care items in addition to fresh produce, will be distributed on the third Thursday of each month.

Wilson said investments like the Washington Heights Entrepreneurial Fund are important because they empower community members.

Sunlight Gardens President Devon Wilson donates the first harvest of collard greens Monday, July 6, 2020 to the South Michigan Food Bank in Battle Creek, Michigan.

“The most effective thing is to identify people who have that passion, they have the ability to follow their plan, and just give them that chance, give them that funding,” he said. “I would really like to see more of this…Let’s provide them with a solid plan and get them that coaching and that help, but also put funding and resources directly into their vision.”

Investing in local people will accelerate improvements in Battle Creek, Wilson said.

“We need people who are passionate about the city and want to make it a better place,” he said. “Most of the time, kids who grew up here say, ‘My goal is to get out of Battle Creek. So I think if we really accelerate some of these projects that are going on right now, it will have a tremendous and lasting effect. »

The full list of 2022 Washington Heights Entrepreneurial Fund recipients includes:

  • Brilliant Minds Family Council – Keith Matthews, Brook-Lyn Glass
  • Sherrill Cotton Funeral and Cremation – Sherrill Cotton
  • Hexx Design Co – Hexxon Villa, Juliet Villa, David Niniz, Javier Fortoso Jr.
  • The Link – Tonesha Heath
  • New Level Church – Gregory Dotson
  • Simply Sensational Berries – Marketeta Haddley, Craig Owens
  • Gardens of the Sun – Devon Wilson
  • Tommy & Co – Marcus Willis
  • Urban Arts Incubator – Taylor McCoy, Jaziel Pugh, Iroham Ekeledo, Carolyn Washington, Marcus Ervin
  • VIATAG – Jeffrey Cotton
  • West End Kitchen – Sidney Ekeledo, Malika Flenoral, Treione Barlo

Contact reporter Elena Durnbaugh at (517) 231-9501 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @ElenaDurnbaugh.