Elevate grants help small Michigan businesses level up

This series, Block by Block, is supported by FHLBank Indianapolis, IFF, and CEDAM, and follows emerging and diverse developers building affordable housing in Michigan.
Some small businesses in Michigan are getting a big help from FHLBank of Indianapolis and its Elevate Small Business Grants. Although headquartered in Indiana, FHLBank of Indianapolis has a network of over 300 member institutions and offers grants to bolster economic development and community revitalizations throughout Indiana and Michigan. 
FHLBank Indianapolis VP community investment department manager Rori Chaney says the Elevate Small Business Grant was created to assist small businesses take the next step in their journey of success.

“Many times, the cost required to take the business to the next level is just too burdensome, and they aren’t able to reach their full potential,” Chaney says. “This program demonstrates FHLBank Indianapolis’ commitment to community development, offering vital resources that enable small business owners to realize their aspirations and contribute to local prosperity.”

Grant recipients can use up to $20,000 for capital expenditures, workforce training, or other needs. 

As part of the 2023 Elevate grant awardees, a Flint-based restaurant The Poke Bowl is now serving quick, nutritious, and affordable poke and acai bowls to the local community. Originally slated to open in 2020, the restaurant's co-owners Justin Bush and Jeron Dotson were delayed due to the pandemic. The business received its Elevate grant of $20,000 in 2022. 

Bush and Dotson used some of the funds to purchase dining furniture and commercial kitchen equipment. They slated remaining funds for hiring employees, training them, purchasing uniforms, and new point-of-sale equipment. The Poke Bowl is a great example of how Elevate can uplift small businesses and help them grow into the next chapter. 

Headquartered in Grand Blanc, ELGA provides affordable financial services, products, and resources all over Michigan. Community impact coordinator Taney Turner manages the community development financial institution (CDFI) and is enthusiastic about using Elevate and other programs to help grow local communities.

"The Elevate grant allows the small business owner to bring in more business, not just limited to the brick-and-mortar location,"  Turner says. "ELGA enjoys being able to work with small businesses and seeing how they can be impactful cornerstones of thriving neighborhoods." 

Mushroom House Tours won the “Excellence in Tourism” award from the Charlevoix Area Chamber of Commerce in 2021.
Edith Pair, owner of Mushroom House Tours in Charlevoix, is a 2021 Elevate grant awardee. Pair says her business started in 2009 as a small gallery in the lower level of the Weathervane Restaurant, which is housed in one of builder Earl Young's "mushroom houses." She admits the gallery wasn’t very successful, but many visitors had one very popular recurring question. They wanted to know more about Young and the other mushroom houses. 

Earl Young, a self-taught builder, constructed homes of indigenous materials like boulders and rocks from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. Today, the mushroom houses’ distinct designs feature stone walls, windows framed with boulders, frosted stone cap chimneys, and a mushroom shaped cedar shake roof. Some people refer to them as hobbit houses, gnome houses, or even fairy houses. 

“I started researching him simply to answer everyone’s questions,” Pair says. “One day, a woman walked in and offered to pay me to take her to the houses as she couldn’t find them. She then said how she couldn’t believe no one in town did tours of these magical creations. An idea was born!”

The tour company began with a few walking tours a week and grew each year, trying out horse and carriage, trolley, bus, and bike options. Today, thanks to the $20,000 Elevate grant, they’ve settled on GEM cars, six-person electric, open-air trams. The company owns two GEM cars, and an eight-seater golf cart to transport visitors around.

Pair says they heard about the FHLBank Elevate Small Business Grant from the local DDA “Main Street” spokesperson, Lindsey Dotson. 

“We used the $20,000 to use as the down payment for the purchase of an additional GEM car. We only had one at the time,” Pair says. “This new GEM has removable doors and heat so we could use it in colder months — and is double the price, which is something we could have never afforded at the time. We also used the money to make a virtual tour for those who want to do the tour on their own, something that was standard during Covid, and also to purchase inventory to sell as souvenirs and on our website.”

During the COVID pandemic, when many small businesses shuttered, this grant proved to be lifesaving for the tour company in the seasonal town. 

“The grant gave us the ability to actually sleep at night and know that we could have a fighting chance of staying open,” she says. “I feel so blessed that we were considered and awarded the grant, and I tell myself that every day. If not for the grant, I would have been way too nervous to spend the money and expand. Thus, we wouldn’t be growing like we are now. It literally saved our company and allowed us to flourish!”

Welcoming visitors from all over, Mushroom House Tours won the “Excellence in Tourism” award from the Charlevoix Area Chamber of Commerce in 2021, is the #1 Thing to Do in downtown Charlevoix on TripAdvisor, and has won the “Best In Charlevoix'' designation from the Charlevoix Awards Program for the past five years.

Helping small businesses like Mushroom House Tours and The Poke Bowl grow and flourish is the goal of the FHLBank Indianapolis Elevate grant program.

“Small businesses are vital to the economic health of many small communities throughout our district of Indiana and Michigan,” Chaney says. “The Elevate program, along with our member financial institutions, plays a pivotal role in fostering economic growth by providing essential funding avenues that empower small businesses to thrive and innovate.”

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new, interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected].

Photos courtesy subjects.

The Block by Block series is supported by FHLBank Indianapolis, IFF, and CEDAM, and follows emerging and diverse developers building affordable housing in Michigan.
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