ProsperUs Detroit empowers micro-businesses with loans, guidance

You can't have big business without big ideas and sometimes those ideas need help and resources to grow. That's the idea behind a financial ecosystem that was started in Detroit when the economy was at an all-time low.
"Detroit hustles harder" is not just a saying, it's a mentality that has become the driving force behind something called "The New Economy Initiative."

And for nearly 20 years now, it's been allowing small and even micro-businesses a chance to thrive.

In a Tech Town Detroit office space, they are looking for ways to give away money, says Paul Jones, CEO of ProsperUs Detroit.

"They don't have to get a hold of us, we get a hold of them," he said.

This 16-member team of ProsperUs Detroit offers micro-lending to small businesses in Detroit - what other banks often consider as risky business.

In the past 10 years, ProsperUs Detroit has given away $5 million in loans.

"What is really interesting about that number is, it's small-dollar loans, it is about 200 entrepreneurs that we have worked with, and a lot of times we are that first dollar in," said Jones.

This team is vital part of a Detroit financial ecosystem. It is one that dates back to the dark days of the economic collapse of 2007 when a group of investors came together and put $100 million into a fund. The money was set aside to use as an investment for small businesses.

Wafa Dinaro is the executive director for the New Economy Initiative.

"The data shows that businesses that are in communities do much better because they feed off each other," Dinaro said.

That thought process created the New Economy Initiative, convinced that small businesses are crucial to the larger ecosystem.

"Small businesses employ just over 50% of the workforce in our state," Dinaro said.

And there is no such thing, as a small idea.

"We really want to focus on micro-business, which we define as 10 employees and under, because that is where all business starts," she said.

That's exactly where Wendy Ekua DaCruz started her Mushroom Angel Company.

"We have one main full-time employee that Dominque and I also assist, and then six part-time online team members that support the digital infrastructure," she said.

FOX 2: "So it sounds like you fit into that category of a micro business."

"We absolutely do," she said.

Four years ago the company founders came to Detroit from the east coast with a dream and little else.

"You have to have a real problem in the marketplace," she said. "Fortunately enough, we launched a food manufacturing company focused on whole foods, producing made from mushroom products at the onset of the pandemic.

"So when you looked around you, people were concerned about health, becoming more health conscious and the meat market was challenged."

She soon discovered that help is there for those who know where to look.

"Detroit to me is like a buffet of resources, your only job is you have to get to the table," DaCruz said.

That's where both the New Economy Initiative, and Prosperus Detroit come in, providing loans, tech assistance, and real-life experience.

"Understand how to write a business plan, how to do their financials, how to do the business side of a business," Dinaro said.

And making sure that mistakes are only made once.

"If you've gone through it, it's not this competitive mindset," said Paul Jones CEO Prosperus Detroit. "A lot it is I want to share, I want to make sure that other people coming from my community, coming from my neighborhood, don't have to go through everything I went through."

In three years the Mushroom Angel Company has gone from a home kitchen to Eastern Market, Detroit restuarants and the shelves of Meijer grocery stores.

"You don't know what you don't know - but for us, it was all about filling the gaps," said DaCruz.

FOX 2: "If I am a small business owner at what point in the process should I reach out?

"Immediately, you should always feel free to reach out and get support," Dinaro said.

Especially when that support is offered for free.  

In a recent survey of small businesses in Detroit, about 61 percent of owners say they felt positive about the future of the econonmy in Detroit.

And that's thanks in part to having access to resources to help them succeed.

For more information go HERE for ProsperUs Detroit.