Small-business conference at Marygrove aims to support Detroit's new wave of entrepreneurs

One of the many side effects of the pandemic, despite small businesses suffering losses, is a boom of new entrepreneurs entering the business world over the last 18 months.

Michigan's small businesses accounted for the creation of 170,000 jobs in the first three quarters of 2021 alone (the biggest uptick in small-business job growth in two decades according to the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information). Across the state, 150,000 new small-business applications were filed last year, which was 59% higher than 2019.

The entrepreneurial surge is part of a nationwide trend, with 4.3 million businesses filing just in 2020, and is one of the reasons behind Marygrove Conservancy's “Run Your Business Like a Boss'' conference this week. The sold-out event on Friday brings together 11 of Detroit’s most established entrepreneurs who plan to use their business acumen and experiences to inspire and educate via panel discussions and presentations. 

Racheal Allen. TBoydston Photography LLC.“It's a small-business conference with a slightly different focus. We know a lot of conferences talk to people about starting and what you need to do to get into business, but we really wanted to talk to people who already have businesses,” says founder and organizer Racheal Allen.

Allen’s concerns are valid. Despite the widening pool of entrepreneurs, the numbers show that 20% of small businesses will fail within their first year, and only 55% stay in business longer than five years.

“We wanted to talk to them about how to operate their business. We’re targeting existing organizations and really focusing on the needs of small businesses,” Allen says.

Allen was inspired by her own entrepreneurial endeavors. “I have a company called Operation School. I got the idea when I was in a class at the Build institute; my husband and I were starting one of our first businesses together,” she says.

As Allen’s experiences and observations grew, she decided to take an entrepreneurial leadership role in metro Detroit’s business community to teach others. “I started doing that as a coach and consultant and many of my workshops would sell out. So I’ve always wanted to do this as an annual conference and as a way to bring together small businesses and professionals [...] When I got the opportunity with Marygrove, we have such a great ecosystem of small business anyway, I knew this was the right place to do it,” she says.

The conference will be hosted by Achsha Jones and jump-started with inspiring words from life and executive coach Monica Marie Jones who will be discussing “Mastering Your Mindset”. Jones has worked with entrepreneurs for over a decade helping them facilitate big breakthroughs in their careers and relationships.

Mario Kelly will then speak on “Reevaluating your Great Start: Passion & Pivots”.  Kelly has been the owner of Believe 313 Staffing for the last 10 years, which began with a contract in 2020 with Henry Ford Health Systems that allowed him to employ 82 people for its linen department. That same year he was contacted by Balfour to do post-event stadium cleaning for its separate entities, including Ford Field, Comerica Park, DTE Amphitheatre, The Fox Theatre, and Little Caesars Arena, which allowed him to provide employment to 743 people.

Also presenting will be Robert Courtney, discussing the “5 C’s of Social Media”. 
Courtney is an innovator of business and a builder of community through digital strategies. He's a specialist in topics like organic social media, growth, personal branding, and entrepreneurship. He currently oversees Robert Courtney & Associates; a full-service digital agency based in metro Detroit that assists the industries of fashion, hospitality, automotive, real estate, and beauty. 

The last presentation, “Run Your Business Like A Boss: How to Automate, Delegate & Manage” will be given by Allen herself.

“I definitely want them to get some inspiration. I think it’s important to bring businesses together to just talk about the challenges that people are experiencing," she says. "Particularly Black businesses during the pandemic."

“The second part is that I want them to leave with tangible action plans. Beyond being inspired, what are some things they can do now that will help them in their business?  And we have these dynamic speakers who we think can give them some of that."

Nicole Freeman-Kirkland, a certified public accountant for over 23 years, will be at the event to present “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems: Small Business Finances, Taxes, and More”. She currently operates her practice By The Numberz CPA, PLLC, a business coaching business (The Profitista LLC based in Atlanta), and serves as CFO for two non-profit organizations.

A panel discussion in the afternoon will feature Jevona Fudge (of Detroit Sip), April Anderson (Good Cakes & Bakes), Clemente 'Fame' Brown (Three Thirteen), April McGeen (Design Studio 6), Rufus Bartel (Simply Casual), and Tiff Massey (Tiff Massey LLC). 

“This is just the first year so we hope that it goes well so we can make it a bigger and better event next year," says Allen. "To keep it free for our attendees, we wanted to limit the number of participants we would be able to host. So next year we hope that the demand is so high we can continue to bring in support for this event and increase the number of participants we’ve able to support. But the goal is to make this an annual conference."

Along with the plethora of priceless advice, Allen plans to give away $5,000 business grants to some of the attendees at the conference. The grants are sponsored by Bedrock Detroit.

“I mean information is great, but they also really need very tangible resources like cash that can help with what they’re doing," says Allen. "I want them to take one thing from everybody they've heard and I want them to implement it into their business tomorrow.”
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