Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis is helping Detroit businesses grow with an innovative grant

Jo's Gallery has earned its spot as a fixture of Livernois Avenue's thriving art scene. A staple of the Detroit corridor for the last few decades, the family-owned art gallery and framing shop is well-known for its curated collections of African American and abstract art. And it's become a go-to place for residents to pick up original art, prints, sculptures and jewelry or to have frames made. 

Jo Griffin, a former teacher and school administrator with a passion for the arts, originally started the gallery in the 1980s, operating out of her home. Then in 1996, she moved it to a storefront home on Livernois Ave.

"At the time there weren't a lot of outlets for African American artists to showcase their work,” says Garnette Archer, Griffin's daughter and current owner of Jo's Gallery. "That was her premise for starting. And after becoming a storefront it just took off organically."  

After Griffin's passing in 2012, Archer made the decision to take over the business, which she likens to a "third sibling" in her family. The last few years have been a little tumultuous for the second-generation Detroit business, with a streetscape project on Livernois closing the gallery down for almost five months in 2019 and then, of course, the pandemic. 

Despite these challenges, Archer has been thinking a lot about expanding her existing operations for a while now. That's not always an easy thing to do, especially given the current uncertain business climate. Fortunately, though, she's had some significant support in realizing that goal, thanks to a special grant program offered by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis.

Garnette Archer of Jo's GalleryElevating small business

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis (FHLBank Indianapolis) is a regional bank covering Michigan and Indiana and part of the Federal Home Loan Bank system. The banks that make up this system are government-sponsored cooperatives created by Congress and owned by their members, which are financial institutions like banks and credit unions. They exist to provide access to low-cost funding for their member institutions and are particularly focused on providing solutions to support the housing and small business needs of their members’ customers.

The Elevate Small Business Grant, which Jo's Gallery was awarded in 2021, is a special program uniquely offered through FHLBank Indianapolis. Launched in 2018, it provides grants that have totaled up to $25,000 to qualifying businesses working with its members in Michigan and Indiana. Elevate grant winners can use that money for a variety of things, including: purchasing property; making improvements to existing property; acquiring machinery, tools, equipment or other technical enhancements; or paying for workforce development or training. Additionally businesses can use up to $10,000 of the grant as working capital to pay expenses like rent or salaries.

The program is aimed at spurring local economic development, business expansion, workforce development, and job creation through its support of small businesses.

Megan Coler-Hasser, an assistant vice president and community investmentArtwork on sale at Jo's Gallery outreach partner with FHLBank Indianapolis, says the bank already offers programs focused on affordable housing and is aware there are other grants targeted towards startups. The Elevate grant was designed to provide much-needed funding to established for-profit businesses that have been operating for at least a year and bring in less than a million dollars in annual revenue.

"It's intended to be kind of the missing funding piece that we have for communities as a whole," she says. "We really wanted to focus on businesses that were wanting to grow. And that's really where the name came from. Elevate is for businesses that want to elevate to the next step as businesses."

Elevate is a competitive grant that offers special consideration to minority-, veteran-, or disabled-owned businesses who apply, awarding extra points during the scoring process to applicants who fit those categories. Around 70% of Elevate applications currently come from minority business owners, and funding for the program is allocated with that in mind.

Applications are also judged on factors including the area median income where businesses are located, amount of time a business has been under its current owners, and whether applicants have developed a strategic business plan.

Beyond that, applicants must partner with one of the bank's member financial institutions, who submit applications on their behalf. Businesses must also include a proposed budget detailing how they would like to spend the grant money. Those who are selected must sign an agreement and verify funds are being used appropriately.

Overall FHLBank Indianapolis has strived to make the process as straightforward as possible, and it's found, perhaps not surprisingly, that the program has attracted a lot of interest.

"We have intentionally worded the application to be as short as possible while getting the information we want out of it," says Coler-Hasser. "There are not a lot of strings attached to it like a lot of our other programs or other types of federal or state funding, so it's been popular with our member financial institutions."

Jo's Gallery on Livernois

Encouraging growth

For Archer, the Elevate grant has been a real blessing as she works to expand Jo's Gallery. After applying twice before, the gallery owner was awarded a grant last year with the support of Christian Financial Credit Union, an FHLBank Indianapolis member. She's been using money from the program, among other things, to purchase equipment and make upgrades to her building.

"I focused the grant on renovating my backroom space," says Archer. "We leased a major piece of equipment, a CNC matte cutter to help us with efficiencies in the framing production space. We changed our lighting out with the grant and we added computers and shelving units."

Jo's Gallery also used money from the grant to replace exterior glass damaged during Livernois recent street improvements, fix up an employee bathroom, install a ceiling fan and hire an additional picture framer, who has since become a permanent employee at the gallery.

While Archer is still in the process of getting all the new equipment online, the impact of the grant so far has been substantial. Jo's Gallery saw a big uptick in sales during the holidays and the profitability of the space has increased overall by around 30 percent due to the additional capacity the grant has allowed. Archer expects that number to jump up to 50 percent once all the new machines are up and running. 

Right now, she's looking forward to carrying out an additional expansion, establishing a restaurant called Jo's Gallery Cafe, which she hopes to open in a building adjacent to the gallery sometime before the end of the year. While she's busy thinking about the future, Archer is certainly appreciative of the support the Elevate grant has offered to her over the last year.

"You need programs like Elevate that help small businesses bridge when you're trying to grow," says Archer. "It's expensive to grow, but you need a way to get there, and these programs are very vital for communities."

Amina Daniels of Live Cycle Delight

'Transformative' Results

Archer isn't alone in the assistance she's been getting from the Elevate grant. Since the program first launched in 2019, FHLBank Indianapolis has selected 11 grant winners in the city of Detroit. These businesses have received approximately $250,000 in funding with the help of several FHLBank Indianapolis members: Level One Bank, First Independence Bank, Lake Trust Credit Union, and Christian Financial Credit Union.

Live Cycle Delight (LCD), a Detroit based fitness center, received a grant in 2019, the program's inaugural year. Launched in 2017, the business operates two boutique fitness studios in the city's West Village. The LCD studio, located 8019 Agnes St., concentrates more on cycling, strength training and cardio workouts, while the LCD Hot studio at 1468 Van Dyke Ave. focuses more on yoga and pilates. 

Owner Amina Daniels, who is also a former recipient of the Motor City Match and Comerica Hatch Detroit awards, originally heard about Elevate through Detroit's small business pipeline. She used the $25,000 her business received to purchase bikes, expand her studio facilities with improvements like new flooring and get the word out about LCD.

While Danels has found herself having to pivot her business plan somewhat due to the challenges of the pandemic — and is now exploring licensing options — she says the funding from Elevate has been a big help. 

"It was really transformative," she says. "I was able to use the money on marketing initiatives, which was great, because in the small business world it is so important to appear on the phone, in the facebook, and on the radio. And it was great to get a jump start on enhancing our studio."

Over in New Center, Anew Life Prosthetics and Orthotics is another local business that's been able to benefit from the Elevate grant. Founded in 2011 by Chris Casteel and his wife, the company manufactures artificial limbs, braces and orthotics — medical devices worn inside shoes to address biomechanical foot issues — from the lab of their building at 6438 Woodward Ave. Chris Casteel, an amputee himself, manages the business and is also the founder of the Downriver Limb Loss Support Group.

Anew used money it received from the grant it was awarded in 2020 to purchase a 3D printer which has enabled it to fabricate state-of-the art prosthetic and orthotic devices on site. Co-owner Kim Casteel says being able to make these items in-house, rather than through a third party, has saved the company both time and money.

"The turnaround for our patients is astronomical," she says. "It's either same-day or next-day. So our patients are fitted quickly and we can do any modifications and adjustments also very quickly, saving us in product cost, our employee time and extra materials."

Chris and Kim Casteel of Anew Life Prosthetics and Orthotics.
Finding local partners

The Casteels found out about the Elevate grant through Level One Bank, which had been instrumental in helping refinance Anew's Woodward Avenue building. David Watkins Another contact there got them in touch with David Watkins, the bank's community developer officer.

"David was amazing at helping us through the grant process," says Kim Casteel. "He saw what we were doing with the technology and how we could be more efficient and save money for our patients and our referrals — and also save the environment by using recycled materials and having less waste."

During his time with Level One Bank, Watkins has helped customers successfully apply for more than $3 million in grant funds from a variety of sources including FHLBank Indianapolis. After learning about the Elevate grant, he's been very proactive in raising awareness about the program. In fact, Watkins has found it's been a great way to attract new clients to the bank, often by reaching out to organizations like TechTown Detroit and Hatch Detroit.
 
"I do my best and try to give clients and prospective clients insight on it, because I've had success in the program," says Watkins. "If you are operating and need some help in a few areas, this is a good grant to provide that help."

The Elevate program will be awarding a new round of grants later this year. Applications will be due Aug. 31 and the names of 2022's winners will be announced on Oct. 28.

This is part of the Block by Block series, supported by FHLBank Indianapolis, that follows minority-driven development in Detroit.

Level One Bank in Farmington Hills.

Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.