5 up-and-coming Detroit entrepreneurs you should know

For Black History Month this year, companies across the nation are celebrating Black-owned businesses. From Amazon’s “Remarkably Black” storefront to Target’s “Black Beyond Measure” campaign, major retailers are putting Black-owned businesses in the spotlight this February.

In Detroit, a city known for its innovative hustle and entrepreneurial spirit, efforts are also underway to celebrate Black-owned businesses — particularly small businesses making a big impact on their local community. 

As part of that effort, ProsperUs Detroit, a place-based economic development strategy that provides low-cost entrepreneur training, business services and micro-lending to low- and moderate-income immigrants and minorities in the city, recently launched a month-long campaign celebrating some of the city’s emerging Black entrepreneurs they’ve helped grow over the years.

“(Black entrepreneurs) are working hard every day to serve their community in a way that is going to make the future brighter for Black people, for individuals and families and neighborhoods, and for our communities as a whole. We think their work should be celebrated, especially at this time, but all year as well,” executive director Chanell Scott Contreras says, noting the importance of promoting contemporary Black-owned small businesses while honoring the past during Black History Month.

Model D checked in with five graduates of ProsperUs’ entrepreneur training program to learn more about the impact they’re making in the community — and what Black History Month means to each of them as emerging business owners in the city.

The Grubbank's Nedra Banks is on a mission.

The Grubbank

Inspired by owner Nedra Banks’ personal financial struggles and lack of access to quality foods, The Grubbank was founded in 2019 with a mission of connecting Detroiters to nutritious plant-based meals through a convenient mobile delivery service.

“I created The Grubbank because it saddened my heart to see children eating breakfast from the gas station. My own children came home starving because they hadn't eaten all day. My own personal struggles financially, and with no access to fresh foods where I lived. So after further research and frustration, I decided to create a solution: build a place where people feel safe to eat, where everything is always fresh and new. Give the people access. Provide the meals mobile-ly and get in the communities …” Banks says. “I started with a green bag from my freelancer job, Instacart, and started cooking healthy meals for seniors — then it just grew.”

Today, The Grubbank offers organic vegan meals, daily fresh salads to go, meal prep consultations and refrigerator and pantry organization services, all available to order online.

As a Black entrepreneur growing a small business centered around increasing access to healthy food in Detroit, Black History Month is a source of inspiration for Banks.

“It motivates me even more to grow this business and give back to my city,” Banks says. “This is where I was born, these are the people who have supported me, and this is where I want to plant all my seeds to help everyone grow healthy — and financially.”

The Great Divine Center

Kymaletha Brown“I was born and raised in Detroit on the east side. The Great Divine Center started with one idea then eventually turned into seven different services being offered,” ays Kymaletha Brown, founder of The Great Divine Center at 17163-69 East Warren in Detroit, adding that the location feels “sacred” to her because it’s filled with the memories of her youth. 

“Things just started to align in my life, and suddenly I am living out my dreams,” Brown says.

Founded in 2019 as K.Breastfeeding, the center changed its name to the Great Divine Center in 2021 to accommodate the addition of six other wellness-based services with an emphasis on pregnant women and new mothers. The center’s wellness offerings now include therapy, doula services, placenta encapsulation, dance, yoga, meditation and hypnobirthing.

“I originally wanted to just do breastfeeding support and the company was K.Breastfeeding Gifted Milk. The Great Divine Center came about while attending ProsperUs’ entrepreneur program,” Brown says. “While taking the classes, I had a strong urge or desire to do more, and be more. I was completing the entrepreneur program and my master’s degree at Siena Heights University, and knew all that I wanted to do was not at a traditional 9 to 5. While everyone in my class was looking into practices to go work at after graduation, I was putting together a business plan to open my own private practice.”

Since graduating from the program, Brown has been a recipient of technical assistance from the organization and became a micro loan borrower through ProsperUs’ lending program.

For Brown, as a small business owner focused on making a positive impact on the health and wellness of women in Detroit, Black History Month is a bridge from the past to the present.

“Black History to me, as an entrepreneur, is being everything my ancestors were — strong, educated, talented, courageous, powerful, liberated, dedicated, inspirational, impactful, leaders and creative. I know they’re proud of me as I walk in my divine purpose. I know I am guided by the most high, and all things will continue to align divinely,” Brown says.

Yotique

Deirdre CrenshawInspired by a love of fashion and a desire to have a positive impact on the environment, pop-up vintage shop Yotique offers a multifaceted, stylish selection of vintage clothing and accessories dating from the 1960s forward.

“I am an eclectic person that loves to put things together. I started Yotique because I have always loved vintage clothing, and I’m always asked to help with fashion choices from my family and friends. I get a thrill out of finding a vintage piece in good condition and knowing that I am also helping to keep waste out of the landfill,” says owner Deirdre Crenshaw.

Founded in 2016, the Detroit-based businesses currently pops up around Metro Detroit and in Eastern Market during the summer months, though Crenshaw says she’s on the lookout for a brick-and-mortar spot in the city where she’ll be able to sell her vintage finds locally.

In fall 2017, in an effort to grow her business, Crenshaw sought entrepreneurship training through ProsperUs. Since graduating from the program, Crenshaw received technical assistance and a $5,000 Annual Convening Pitch Competition award in 2019.

As a Black entrepreneur in Detroit, Crenshaw says Black History Month serves as a reminder for her of the challenges her ancestors experienced.

“It’s an honor to be a Black business owner, seeing how hard it was for my ancestors in the past,” Crenshaw says.

Soapstone Soaps

Niema StoneAs a small business specializing in handmade, small-batch natural artisan soaps and body care products, Soapstone Soaps was founded in 2014 with a personal mission — relieving the skin ailments of a loved one.

“Our roots began by attempting to alleviate eczema, a common skin condition which my husband suffers with daily,” Niema Stone recalls. “In 2009, I began to research the process of how to make natural soap. Within a year, I started making cold process soap. I did market research for about two years. With a lot of trial and error, people began to ask how can they get more of my products.”

Thirteen years later, Stone has gone on to produce a line of more than 10 soaps and skincare products made with natural ingredients.

As a Black female business owner in Detroit, Stone says Black History Month is, for her, a reminder of the effects of perseverance.

“‘All great achievements require time’ — this (Maya Angelou) quote resonates with me as an entrepreneur from Detroit,” Stone says. “I started making soap back in 2008. When I first started, my soap was terrible. It felt rough on your skin and it did not look pretty at all. But over time, with practice, dedication and perseverance, I was able to perfect my craft. Now, my handmade soaps look like a piece of art.”

House of African Prints

A model shows off House of African Prints apparel.Founded in 2017 by Nawal Denard, House of African Prints offers high-quality African-inspired clothing that’s stylish, modern and accessible for men, women and children.

“(I’m) passionate about bringing chic modern clothing to the city of Detroit — and relentless in my pursuit for a successful business,” Denard says.

Featuring traditional beads and fabric imported from Ghana, the House of African Prints collection includes handmade clothing, accessories, housewares and tapestries. True to the company’s stated social mission of creating access to gainful employment for people that might not otherwise have access to it, the pieces are designed by artisans in Ghana and the U.S. 

House of African Prints also works directly with clients to create custom-designed pieces, allowing patrons the chance to have full control over the look of the finished garments.

As a Detroit-based entrepreneur whose work celebrates the art and artisans of Africa, Black history isn’t something Denard believes in celebrating only one month out of the year, but rather every day.

“Black is power and strength,” Denard says. “Black history is not just a month for me, but I am glad the world stops and acknowledges our existence and our contribution to the human race. There have been so many great Black individuals that have come before us who created amazing legacies for us to learn and follow in their footsteps.”

Read more articles by Erin Marie Miller.

Erin Marie Miller is a freelance writer and photographer based in Metro Detroit whose work focuses on people and small business. Inspired by the genre of New Journalism, she is passionate about connecting people to their communities through meaningful storytelling.