Helping entrepreneurs not just start, but grow: Q&A with Build Institute’s Regina Ann Campbell

This is part of a reporting series, supported by Build Institute, that chronicles BIPOC-led businesses and entrepreneurship in Detroit. 
Founded in 2012, Build Institute initially started as a program of D: Hive, and has grown into a nationally recognized provider of entrepreneurial education and support dedicated to serving “Main Street” microentrepreneurs who are the backbone of our communities. They work towards empowering under-represented and underserved individuals and communities to grow microbusinesses creating pathways out of poverty and building generational wealth for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and women microentrepreneurs. Build is a nurturing organization that addresses the whole person through access to education, personal and professional development, start-up resources, and a supportive, engaged community.

Today, 84% of the entrepreneurs Build Institute engages with are women, and 78% of the participating microentrepreneurs identify as BIPOC. Model D spoke with the President and CEO of Build, national thought leader Regina Ann Campbell, about Build’s vision and goals, urban restoration, resources for microbusinesses, and community impact in the city and beyond. 

Model D: What are Build’s goals for 2023, and the next few years ahead?

Regina Ann Campbell: One of the first projects I undertook after coming to Build in 2020 was the creation of a strategic plan and it’s hard to believe that it ends 2024, so we’re starting a new strategic plan for the next four years. Our goal this year really is to do what we do well, and we achieve that by going slow to go fast, thoughtfully considering opportunities, and always keeping capacity in mind. 

Our microentrepreneurs are always at the center of everything we do, and we strive to meet people where they are at. That means some of our classes will continue to be held virtually because that opportunity gives some busy microentrepreneurs a better chance at success. We'll also be rolling out more Masterclasses that will be designed with participant feedback in mind. For instance, we have a Social Impact 2 course coming up because Social Impact 1 participants told us they wanted a deeper dive. 

Additionally, we are in our 11th year and our alumni’s businesses have grown. Their needs, challenges, and opportunities have shifted and changed. Most have moved from the ideation stage of business to the proof-of-concept and justified stages. Build’s goal is to always meet the needs of our microentrepreneurs which means that the services we provide need to increase and mature to meet those changing needs. New marketing programming lets people know that we’re not just there for idea-stage microbusinesses, Build is here to help you grow. 

We’re going to start focusing on getting back out in the community, holding classes and one-on-ones with our experts in person.

Model D: A lot of small businesses were hit hard during the pandemic. How does Build effectively help small businesses navigate the entrepreneurial and economic climate at the moment?

Regina Ann Campbell:  One of the classes I think is great is a class we offer called Rebuild. It helps existing microbusinesses rise up and out of the business which enables them to think about pivoting. This course teaches participants how to make strategic decisions on what products should they sell, should they stop selling certain products, what distribution channels are out there for them, and other challenges many of these microbusinesses face. 

Access to capital continues to be a barrier for many BIPOC microentrepreneurs so we offer several funding opportunities for their specific stage of business. Our Detroit SOUP program is there for ideators. Our partner Kiva helps to provide low-interest loans. We actually have a Build Alumni Loan that we’re extremely excited about. It fills a gap in the marketplace because we have microentrepreneurs whose businesses do not qualify for traditional loans yet but need smaller amounts from $2,000 to $15,000. That’s really what our alumni need to start off with.

Learning what our microentrepreneurs current concerns are surrounding COVID, the unofficial recession, and record inflation has been important. These concerns continue to take a toll and alums are asking us how they can continue to stay in business. Here’s where our Capital Access programs can help to bridge a gap.

Now, what we’ve been doing is continuing to do one-on-ones – talking to microentrepreneurs and seeing what they need along with connecting to ecosystem partners as needed and encouraging them to take the first step by signing up for office hours with our subject matter experts who can connect them to additional resources and help to problem solve.

One tool I always suggest to early-stage businesses is that they use a business model canvas. It is something that is adaptable and can help a microentrepreneur take a look at what they have on hand now. We also have Master Classes that are one to four hours virtually, and in-person which are deeper dives into subjects like cash flow, branding, accounting, and more.

Model D: What have some of the entrepreneurs reported back as essential tools?

Regina Ann Campbell: Naturally, operations, cash flow, and accounting are key – they don’t have to be accountants, but they must understand what’s going in and what’s coming out, this means they to be aware of their financials YTD to meet business expenses and to be profitable. Last year, we had a cash flow two-part series designed to help microbusinesses owners understand what cash flow means and taught them to comfortably make strategic decisions when it comes to sales and ask for help when needed. 

Early 2021, data showed that people needed marketing. We had an amazing first-of-its-kind in Detroit partnership with GoDaddy that went deep, educating participants on technology (in digital and non-digital, online branding) that manifested as a new website for microentrepreneurs.  This program gave participants the knowledge + tools to strategically market their businesses, increase sales and gain market access.  

Model D: Why is creating a diverse community of entrepreneurs so important to Build? What impact does that have here in Detroit?

Regina Ann Campbell: I grew up at a time when I like to say it was pre-crack epidemic, pre-vacant lots, and I can remember my corridors. I loved going shopping, I loved seeing people working there, I loved seeing engagement, and community as a result of the microbusinesses.

To me, our microbusinesses provide an economic [Return on Investment] (ROI), creating jobs, and enhancing our tax base. Micro-businesses are the majority of businesses across the country. 

I always say that when it comes to microbusinesses, they are much like going into Little Caesars Arena or going to Comerica Park for a ball game. People are coming together and talking – you see people you know and you meet people you don’t know. Micro-businesses are the catalyst which create a community’s vibe,  just an environment where you can smile and laugh and that is essential to quality of life. 

We know that too many times BIPOC and women microentrepreneurs are left behind. They face barriers to success and challenges that are unique but their participation in a community’s economy adds vibrancy and makes for a healthier economy. We also know that the creation of generational wealth lays a foundation for stable and healthy families. By eliminating these barriers, we anticipate marginalized microentrepreneurs will have access to the resources they need to grow and scale their business - positioning their families and their communities with the means to realize their full potential.

There’s not only an economic ROI, but there’s a social return on investment. microentrepreneurs are essential to our culture, building connections with one another, and making our cities stronger. 

Model D: What does growth look like to Build? How do you measure success?

Regina Ann Campbell: We measure success by a few things. One, naturally by quantitative metrics like revenue, jobs created, jobs retained, revenue raised by funding, as well as collective impact across our Build Cities. 

Ultimately, the most important way to measure is the feedback from those we serve. We pride ourselves on co-designing the solution – what we are providing is based on the feedback and problems microentrepreneurs have shared with us. 

Hearing them tell us what’s working and what’s not working is the most important way to measure success because the reality is no one does anything alone. If we are not providing the service in a way with what microentrepreneurs, or aspiring microentrepreneurs, want, then we are doing a disservice to the community. 

Growth for us is going where like-minds, missions, values, and visions match. 

Model D: We know you've worked across lots of communities urban, suburban, and rural how does Build set itself up as a "SuperHub"? 

Regina Ann Campbell: We started in a certain place where one, we focused on ideation. In particular, we started working in urban communities with microentrepreneurs and, over time, through best practice of licensed curriculum, Build’s founder, April Jones Boyle, saw that this could also scale to suburban communities, so we went into Ferndale and some other communities. 

This year, our team looked at data about the success of 2,500+ alumni who started with Build. We looked at both the urban and suburban data and thought this curriculum would be good for rural, so the demand for us to extend to rural communities is in our footprint now. 

As a hub, we know we don’t do everything and can’t do everything, so we’re very strategic as thought leaders about vendors, many of whom are Build grads, to help execute program services for microentrepreneurs not only in Michigan, but in other places as well. 

Model D:  How do you support alumni after they graduate, and at other stages of business development?

Regina Ann Campbell: We focus on ideation and when leading Build, we always make data-driven decisions. That’s based on feedback from microentrepreneurs and data from the New Economy Initiative. We saw that many of our businesses are proof of concept or justified stage businesses. This means that many of them have consistent customers, some consistent cashflow, however they are often stuck without resources to grow and scale. 

We discovered that they don’t have the ability or resources to go from that idea, proof of concept, to growth. For the past couple of years, Lisa Grace, Build’s Chief Impact Officer, and I have worked to raise funding to bring in programs to support alumni in those stages of growth. [For example] implementing more classes for education, so that they can go on and do business with confidence and resources when they’re not at the table with us – a core concept of Build.

The Build Bench is another resource we offer. Alongside our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, industry experts are available anytime for microentrepreneurs to meet. Additionally, the Build Bench is there when opportunities present themselves. Often times microentrepreneurs don’t have a team around them to help them be strategic when it comes to taking advantage of them. 

I am also excited about our new Co-working space. It is a place for microentrepreneurs to do business, a safe space for them to come in and ideate, stretch themselves, and grow alongside like-minded microentrepreneurs with resources readily available. We don’t outgrow our microentrepreneurs, they can stay with us throughout their entire journey. 

Model D: ​​Build is growing. Tell us about the expansion of services and communities happening.

Regina Ann Campbell: Particularly in the Detroit area market, we are going to be expanding to outer Wayne County, we have a grant which is really awesome. We’ll be able to go to Inkster, Taylor, Ecorse, and more. We are also in discussions with Dearborn, Pontiac, and Ferndale. 

We have a strong relationship with Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Bradenton, Florida, so we’re very excited to continue strengthening existing relationships, and expand our Build Basic and our Build Social Impact for social enterprises. We’ve even launched our Build Social Impact and two master courses. These classes are for folks who have made it through the ideation part and now they need more resources to grow. 

We’ve put more funding into our loan fund for Build grads so that when capital is the barrier, we can help support them with that. The one thing about Build, we’re going to continue to become even more robust by allowing our team to go meet in partner spaces and do on-on-ones. 

We want our programs to be in places where people are. We’ll be having an upcoming event called Build Community & Conversations that will be in the Build space and inside of businesses, where people are. 

It’s really microentrepreneurs and communities that are driving Build’s growth. They’re contacting us and telling us what they need and asking us to help them drive entrepreneurship forward in their communities. It’s a very exciting time for Build Institute so stay tuned. 
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