Resource for Black, Brown Entrepreneurs Returns
Krystal Nurse (Author)
Lansing State Journal USA TODAY NETWORK – MICHIGAN
A support network for Black and brown business owners is getting a new look.
On Feb. 28, the Melanated Business Alliance of Greater Lansing — formerly the Black Business Alliance — will launch a new website and fresh resources for entrepreneurs.
Dr. Alane Laws-Barker, a Sparrow OB-GYN, started the group in 2020. Her goal was to help businesses survive the pandemic and facilitate calls to support Black entrepreneurs after George Floyd’s death.
A simple Google sheet, it contained the names, addresses and websites of Black-owned businesses around Lansing.
The group has since since expanded through partnerships with the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) and the Lansing Regional Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — thus the name change.
Today, that Google sheet runs 146 businesses long. And soon, it will appear on a website alongside other resources for business owners.
“We’re sending a very important message,” said Laws-Barker. “We’re about educating people to empower people.”
Laws-Barker has worked to bolster the group this past year. Its launch on
Feb. 28 is a fitting way to close out Black History Month, she said.
In addition to launching the website, she plans to host small-scale networking events under the alliance’s name, though no dates are set.
The new website’s directory will allow business owners to edit their own information when an address or website changes rather than reaching out to alliance leaders. Anyone in the region is allowed to join, but some grants and programs the alliance promotes may have location-based restrictions. Membership is free.
“It’s not just going to have an impact on the Black community, but the BIPOC community as whole,” said Najeema Thomas, owner of YouShine Events and Consulting. “This is broader, to talk to people of color to create and build conversation.”
The alliance will create a support network for business owners like Dara Mayhoe, who runs the tree removal service WiseMan Tree Experts with her husband, Mark.
When the couple started their business 20 years ago, another tree service, Ayles, sent them clients to get started. The couple has searched for another Black-owned tree service to pay that kindness forward, but have come up short.
Mayhoe was recently the recipient of a $5,000 grant from the U.S. Coalition to Back Black Businesses. The same program last year helped dancer Tiffany Nordé open her own studio in Lansing.Mayhoe was recently the recipient of a $5,000 grant from the U.S. Coalition to Back Black Businesses. The same program last year helped dancer Tiffany Nordé open her own studio in Lansing.
Mayhoe rushed to apply for the grant after Nordé posted about her success in a closed Facebook group for Black entrepreneurs that she runs. Mayhoe hopes the grant, which can total $25,000 if she’s selected to advance in the program, will help her purchase the office space she currently rents.
The Coalition to Back Black Businesses also provides business coaches to help grantees advance their vision.
“I was just at a meeting recently, and they were just sharing about what each coach does,” she said. “That just made me feel so good to know that, because sometimes you could get lost in information.”
Laws-Barker hopes to see more prospective entrepreneurs join the Melanated Business Alliance in addition to established business owners. She believes existing owners in the alliance could help new entrepreneurs improve their business plans and wade through logistics like obtaining a loan.
“It’s capital,” Thomas said. “You can have all of the ideas you want, but the biggest issue is having the startup capital and financial backing to make your ideas more successful.”
Like many business owners right now, Mayhoe’s problem isn’t finding customers, but finding employees. She recently partnered with Houston Legacy of Enlightenment, a life-skill organization for youth, to train people ages16 to 22 in tree removal.
They’re starting a summer workshop to teach teens tree removal in July or August.
“When it comes to diversifying what we do, we want to bring it to the community so that young people in urban, underserved areas can see what we’re doing,” Mayhoe said. “Baby, you could come and learn how to cut a tree down and live off an anesthesiologist’s salary. This is a very lucrative industry.”
Thomas also sees that type of outreach as essential to the Melanated Business Alliance.
“There’s so many who are doing it by grassroots who the need the access to publicity, money and platforms,” she said. “The people who back it make it a winning project. When one organization succeeds, the entire community thrives.”