BUILD expands startup services for small businesses into the City of Flint

According to a 2021 Genesee County analysis of small businesses, they“ are the fabric of Genesee County communities.” According to the analysis, small businesses are spread throughout Genesee County with the highest concentration of businesses in larger communities such as Flint, Grand Blanc, and Fenton, with 60% of small businesses in Flint. With the activation of the new Flint and Genesee Small Business Support Hub and partnerships between the City of Flint and BUILD Institute, that number is likely to increase. 

Starting this month, BUILD is expanding its startup services from Detroit into the City of Flint. BUILD Institute, a nonprofit housed in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood, is a small business hub that provides micro-entrepreneurs with the necessary tools, resources and support network to develop their businesses from the ideation phase to the scaling phase. 

The launch is a partnership between BUILD, the Best Practices Consulting Services (BPCS) in Flint, and the CDC Small Business Finance. The program is a virtual eight-week cohort that will provide participants with education based on the BUILD BASICS course, business credit training, financial management support, business evaluations for capital, and networking with lenders, peers and prospects.  

“There is such a great need for advanced technical existence, but not every business owner is ready for that,” says Laura Sigmon, president and CEO of Best Practices Consulting Services. “You need to know the early onset of business before buying a building for your business, and I think BUILD is the premier of ideator training that provides that knowledge.”

The program doesn’t only provide participants with the necessary knowledge to grow their businesses, but will provide them with an immense networking system at no cost to participants. Upon completion, the participants will become a part of BUILD’s more than 2,600 alumni. 

“Not only does BUILD procure services of BUILD alumni, we also market them, promoting exposure and access, which can be very expensive for a small business owner,” says Regina Ann Campbell, CEO and president of BUILD. 

It also provides participants with more options to choose from to gain capital for their businesses. There’s the Kiva loans in association with BUILD, the zero interest $15,000 fund from the BPCS, and even more funding opportunities available due to the partnership with the CDC Small Business Finance. “ We’ve actually secured a relationship with a lender, CDC loans, where they will go up to $300,000 for some of our participants,” Sigmon says.

From one comeback city to another

Although Detroit and Flint are different cities, there is a similar journey between the two. Both have witnessed times of economic turmoil after the Great Recession, and both have witnessed loss of revenue due to residents leaving their neighborhoods because of crises such as disinvestment, bankruptcy, the Flint Water Crisis, corrupt leadership, gentrification, systemic racism and so on. But regardless of what has occurred, both cities share a trait that has allowed them to continue and begin to turn the tide, resilience.  

“There was a time in Detroit where people looked at us as a dead or abandoned city,”  Campbell says. “But every place and every human matters…and with the time, attention and resources, both from a human perspective and capital, we see change happen. There’s a variety of development happening in Flint and BUILD is there to help activate some opportunities for those who live there the same way we are doing in Detroit.”

The partnership benefits the participants of the program and the organizations involved. The BPCS specializes in providing strategic planning, economic development and technical assistance to many ecosystem support agencies such as community development financial institutions (CDFIs), microlenders that have the desire to support micro and small business communities.

“In certain markets, we have a greater population for ideators, and the BPCS is overly expensive at the ideation space,”Sigmon says. “BUILD actually does both ideator training and technical assistance without having to anticipate additional costs, because if I had to pay it out of my own budget it would cost me twice the amount that it would cost for BUILD to render the service.”

The program is funded with federal dollars from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated to disadvantaged, underrepresented populations. Applicants must meet an income threshold, be residents of Flint and have their businesses registered there to be eligible.

The partnership also causes impact and outreach to participants to increase close to 30 percent. If services were rendered just by the BPCS, only eight people would be allowed to participate in the program due to the budget. With BUILD, 20 people are able to be trained under the budget. 

“It’s just simple math, the likelihood statistically of more businesses scaling and moving to the next level is growing significantly, which results in the sustainability of federal funds and more development of the city,” Sigmon says. “People are going to live where they can work, play, grow, scale and be safe, and our answer to this is economically building small businesses even at the ideation space.”


Community building, revitalization, and economic growth are the core objectives of this program and partnership. For one Flint native, this program is very significant because it is a way to touch the community and promote education and wealth.

 “I am overjoyed that we were able to get the Flint city’s program up and running because I see there’s a revitalization happening in my hometown.” says Aisha Tillman, a Flint native and vice president of BUILD.    

For Tillman, education is vital and she would like to see participants of the program come out as well-rounded professionals in their businesses so they can in turn expand their knowledge and confidence in business. “The more we educate, the more small business owners can expand, scale, grow and build their confidence to stick their foot in a pond that they were told they could not access,” Tillman says.

Tillman, who grew up in Evergreen Estates, has seen first hand how Detroit entrepreneurs with an idea have been impacted by BUILD and wants Flint to experience the same impact. “I really want people to reinvest and come back home to Flint, because Detroit is always looking for new innovative ideas… I want that same energy for Flint and I want the youth to see that they don’t have to follow a path that has been outlined for you, but you can carve your own path.”      

The BPCS is currently working on deploying similar programs in Jackson and Pontiac.

Along with this program, BUILD has free one-on-one sessions with specialized experts who provide tailored coaching and support for micro-entrepreneurs regardless of where they are in the life of the business. Registration for upcoming courses such as BUILD BASICS are available for $350 or less, depending on income with an income-based fee scale. BUILD is also having their first signature fundraiser event in August at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre where Sheila E. will be performing.  

“When it comes to this new partnership, the key words that resonate with me is 'The Blueprint Conversation' that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,” Campbell says. "'Don't burn, baby, burn, but build, baby, build, learn, baby, learn so we can earn, baby, earn.'”

The Flint Small Business Initiative (FSBI) is interviewing interested applicants and are still accepting applications for residents of Flint that want to join the program. To learn more information research the FSBI’s Facebook page or call 313-265-3062. 
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