Muskegon Lakeshore region offers excellent support for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The Muskegon Lakeshore region provides fertile soil for business growth, with access to ample resources to help budding entrepreneurs turn their ideas into successful companies.
There to lend a hand is the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, which offers training and networking events designed to establish business connections.
Other resources include Muskegon Angels, an investment group that helps startups acquire capital, and FARM (Food Agriculture Research and Manufacturing), an incubator accelerator on the Muskegon Community College campus that connects food entrepreneurs with farms and processing companies.
“Our focus is on supporting these entrepreneurs all the way through to sustainability,” says Marty Gerencer, executive director of FARM.
Redefining Vintage in Muskegon, MI
What started as a hobby turned into a business for Renee Doan and her daughter, Courtney Doan Leibrandt.
For years, they refinished vintage clothes and furniture for fun. Once they began taking items to craft shows, customers said they should open a shop.
“One day we looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe we should do that.’ So we did,” Courtney says.
The result is Vintage Redefined, a home decor and lifestyle shop that opened in 2017 in downtown Muskegon.
“We had somebody from the chamber spend a half-day walking us all over downtown looking at spaces,” Renee says. “He told us stories about the neighborhood and the history of the area. He introduced us to the restaurants and breweries. We started to get that feel of community.”
They finally decided on a building owned by the Lakeshore Museum Center. “We love being part of the downtown,” Courtney says. “And part of a community that graciously supports us.”
Finding Kaja’s Flavor in Muskegon Heights, MI
Kaja Thornton Hunter discovered her love for Cajun cooking while living in Savannah, Georgia. “Instead of having cake at birthday parties, people there would have a crab boil,” she says.
When Hunter returned to her hometown – Muskegon Heights, MI – she wanted to bring that Cajun taste with her, so she started creating her own spices. Eventually, they became so popular among family and friends that she decided to package them under the name Kaja’s Flavor.
With the help of the Chamber of Commerce, SCORE mentoring service and the Food Processing and Innovation Center at the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, she gained the skills necessary to run a business.
“The chamber was instrumental in helping me navigate business plans and licensing. They’re kind of a one-stop shop to get you where you need to be,” Hunter says. “And the MSU Extension helped me navigate the Department of Agriculture.”
Proceeds from Kaja’s Flavor provide funds for the nonprofit Overcoming Barriers, which helps people with disabilities and mental illnesses live as independently as possible.
Establishing Community Through 490 Bakery
Davine Calkins began cooking as a child, though her initial concoctions were made with Play-Doh and an Easy-Bake Oven. As she got older, she changed those items out for things like cookie dough and an oven, and in 2018, she and her husband, Brian, opened The 490 Bakery in Muskegon.
While establishing the company, officials from the MSU Extension offered advice on labeling and packaging, and Calkins took advantage of an incubator kitchen at the downtown farmers market.
“There were all these doors I could open to get support,” she says. “Everybody was very encouraging and made me feel like I was on the right track.”
The bakery provides delicious cookies, which are named after city neighborhoods, to fellow community residents. “We want to emphasize the community coming together,” Calkins says.
She also uses the bakery to provide transitional employment to those trying to return to life after being incarcerated or dealing with an addiction. “These folks just need a chance in the workplace,” Calkins says.