Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Entrepreneurs Trying to Catch a Break Get a Leg Up in Flint

May 16, 2014
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Entrepreneurs Trying to Catch a Break Get a Leg Up in Flint
Volunteers work with the Habitat For Humanity on May 13, 2014 in Flint, Michigan. Scott Legato/Getty Images
Habitat for Humanity kicks off a new program building live/work spaces for low-income business starters.

Sometimes it’s hard to make money if you don’t have serious bank already.

This goes for low-income entrepreneurs especially. Businesses can take months, if not years, to turn a profit. But what if you need that profit now, to provide a roof over your head?

Habitat for Humanity knows a thing or two about putting roofs over people’s heads. Acknowledging the conundrum of start-ups, the national institution has launched an innovative program to provide people with homes and business space at the same time.

Starting with a pilot program in Flint, Mich., Habitat for Humanity will build live/work spaces for aspiring low-income entrepreneurs. The goal is to help the recipients establish a business while stabilizing blighted neighborhoods. The effort is a collaboration among Habitat, the University of Michigan and MasterCard, which chipped in a $400,000 grant.

The first recipients: Scott Hempel, 24, and Tyler Bienlein, 22. They plan to launch Great Escape Gaming on the bottom level and live in an apartment above in the Grand Traverse District Neighborhood on Court Street, a main route that leads to downtown Flint. The store will sell board games and serve as a community space where customers can gather and play.

“By giving gamers the opportunity to come in and play the game and try it out, that prompts them to want to buy the game,” Hempel told Nicole Weddington of MLive. “Also, having people in the store, you will sell things like drinks, snacks, food.”

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Teachers in the University of Michigan-Flint, including the school’s entrepreneur-in-residence Michael Witt, will mentor Hempel and Bienlein through the business startup process.

Sue Henderson, vice president of the U.S. and Canada for Habitat for Humanity International, told Weddington that in order to revitalize places like Flint, “First, you bring neighborhoods back. You get people living in houses, you take down blighted structures. And then the next step is, how do you bring business back?”

Or in Flint’s case, maybe you accomplish everything all at once with a single building.

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