Article originally appeared on Rapid Growth Media
Written by Mathew Russell
For a community to grow, it needs strong entrepreneurial roots to build on.
In the Madison-Hall neighborhood, the roots may have seemingly all but withered—unemployment is pushing 28 percent and years of institutionalized discrimination have dashed many hopes of growth.
Enter the green thumbs of Kafi and Rudy Carrasco and their team at Partners Worldwide and Restorers Business Partnership, a Christian-based organization which began the Spring GR program on March 19. Spring GR is a training, mentoring and networking program designed to help budding entrepreneurs in Grand Rapids turn their ideas into thriving businesses. And while it’s focused on the Madison-Hall neighborhood, interested entrepreneurs from outside the neighborhood are taking part in the sessions, too.
Restorers, of which Kafi has been executive director of since 2012, is structured on the partnership model of Partners Worldwide, where Rudy has United States Regional Facilitator since 2009. Restorers is an affiliate of PW, and the curriculum of Spring GR is based on that of another affiliate, LAUNCH, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“Spring GR is for people who just have an idea. We’re going to take them through a process, shape their idea and get their business started,” Kafi Carrasco said. “We’re going off the idea that you can start your business without a whole bunch of money. The best way to get your business going is to get it going.”
Spring GR, led by adult education specialist Zena Patillo, aims to help entrepreneurs start small businesses with low start-up costs, and get them acquainted with the earning potential to help them achieve their goals.
“We have people who have inventions, ideas, people who want to start a nonprofit, people who want to start restaurants, daycares, upscale men’s upscale boutiques,” Carrasco said. “We want to help them develop those ideas and get them started. We want to tap into the entrepreneurial potential and use it for community change and transformation through poverty fighting.”
The program offers a concentrated entrepreneurial training piece, followed by the opportunity for participants to be mentored by Grand Rapids entrepreneurs and businesspeople and to receive business support intended to maintain and monitor their new ventures. The hope is to create a continuous cycle of launching, cultivating and sustaining new businesses.
“In the ten-week training, we focus on different aspects. The first week we learn about the customer— how know your customer, and more importantly, who is your customer?” Carrasco said. “They do field work throughout the rest of the training, talking to people and getting feedback on who they think their customer is, shaping that idea, as well as shaping other parts of the business.”
Borrowing from the LAUNCH program, Spring GR will use an open canvas or sorts to illustrate an organization of thoughts. Carrasco said the canvas model is much more accessible to people who may not necessarily have a lot of education.
“It’s not just dumbing it down or anything, it’s just making it clean for anyone to understand,” she said.
Throughout the ten-week program, students will learn how to best focus their business on the customer, considering their own talents and capacity.
They may have to pivot, of course, or change their idea just a little bit to make it neat to the customer,” Carrasco said. “We go through a lot of marketing and general business topics. And after you go through the ten-week training and the graduation, we actually provide three months of business coaching, with small business specialist Attah Obande, to help meet their 30, 60, and 90- day goals.”
The 11th week of the program, along with graduation, includes a pitch program, a la “Shark Tank,” a feature Carrasco and team took from PW affiliate Sunshine Gospel Ministries, in Chicago.
According to Rudy Carrasco, Spring GR has attracted a racially diverse crowd, including African Americans, Latinos, a citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Caucasians. The make-up of their business plans was even more diverse. Participants hoped to see dreams of auto detailing shops, catering companies, BBQ joints, housing rehab and sales organizations, salsa outlets, used car lots, men's fashion, global market business incubators, video production companies, indoor trampoline activity centers and more come to fruition.
As a Christian-based organization, both Partners Worldwide and its affiliates, like Restorers, are often partnered with churches and other faith-based events, but Rudy said, they provide a function often unseen in that world.
“Yes, there are business people in churches, but do they grow that skill? No. We teach you how to be who you are (business-oriented) in Partnership,” he said.
Partners Worldwide began as Partners for Christian Development in 1994 when Kenyan and American business people met to establish a loan fund for small to medium enterprises, a business savings and loan cooperative, and partnerships between entrepreneurs.
Partners for Christian Development grew out of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee. In 2005, responding to the increasing need to engage business people and professionals, Partners Worldwide was established as an independent faith-based business ministry, though it continues to partner with the Christian Reformed Church. The movement of Partners Worldwide began with a simple question: “Is there a way for business people to become part of the solution to ending poverty, instead of being seen as part of the problem?”
Partners Worldwide has expanded beyond its East Africa beginnings, Rudy said, and currently has active partnerships in 20 countries around the world, keeping in mind four strategic activities: training, mentoring, access to capital, and advocacy. Apart from Restorers, LAUNCH, and Sunshine Gospel Ministries, in the U.S., PW affiliates are located in Victoria, Texas, Holland, Mich., Gulfport, Miss., and Sunnyside, Wash.
“This helps people build up a permanent local capacity designed to catalyze high impact entrepreneurs and job creators—we hope in their own neighborhoods,” he said.
The Carrascos moved to Grand Rapids in July 2009 after two decades in an urban incarnational ministry in Pasadena, Calif. at Harambee Christian Family Center, a member of the Christian Community Development Association. They have been involved for many years in ministries and projects that empower people in high unemployment communities. Kafi, a former principal of a private, urban Christian school in Pasadena, holds two masters degrees in education.
Restorers has been around for 16 years of PW’s 20, and during that time, success stories have cropped up throughout the United States and the world. Entrepreneurial spirit may be a commonality in these stories but it’s something that doesn’t come without hard work and a willingness to do so, Rudy said.
“You can’t force the business mentality,” he said. Restorers, being local, helps entrepreneurs in our area to understand who they know and how to build that business network. But once they’re on their way, it becomes stimulative.”
For more information about Restorers, visit http://www.restorersinc.org/
For more on Partners Worldwide, visit http://www.partnersworldwide.org/