Touchstone Excellence: The Entrepreneur Fund helps BIPOC business owners thrive

Desiree Jenkins sure had fun feeding people all summer from her Mama Roots food truck.

“That’s why I do what I do. Being out here in the community and feeding the farmers,” she told us, between serving tacos at the farmers market.

She really has a truck. “I did the three-year business test. Goes well. I love him so much too. This excites me and I am constantly thinking of new ideas.

She told us that the Entrepreneur Fund was instrumental in building her website and her mission.

And there are directions for growth. “They helped me with financing and that helps me pursue my dream of buying another food truck. So I can cater weddings and do more events,” Jenkins said.

Up in Woodland, Yasuko Holt is also living her dream. “It’s my pleasure to make people happy. And I think the food is upstairs,” she told us.

She is the owner of Zen House, which first opened in 2006. Her goal was to fill the void of Japanese food options in the Northland. “I have a great team and the customers are great.”

The Entrepreneur Fund is helping her move to the next phase.

“They referred me to this person, and to this person, and then to that person, and then I was able to buy this building,” she shared.

Holt already wants to take this show on the road. “I would like to open a food truck that serves Japanese food. I was the first to bring Japanese food here, and I want to be the first Japanese food truck,” Holt said.

And another food business, Nae’s Cookout, is still coming together. “We have a nice menu together,” shared Renee Crawford, co-founder.

She and Lamar Taylor, the other co-founder, plan to do a backyard barbecue-style trailer where you can order and eat alfresco at tables with music.

They just brought some of Lamar’s handiwork to the Entrepreneur Fund to show the advisory committee.

All three businesses are part of the Stride program, which was developed several years ago when the fund decided to emphasize diversity.

“We realized that there’s a lot of underrepresentation and yet we meet just fantastic people all the time, and they don’t know each other. So we decided we needed to create a sense of community,” explained Shawn Welnitz, CEO of the fund.

A customer joins as a start-up or existing business. This means classes and resources.

“Classes are the educational part. We have access to capital and that is a huge problem. There is also a community among other entrepreneurs and also our committee. The committee has just great feedback to share,” said Andrea Black. She is the Director of Business Services.

The fund is really proud of what’s going on.

“It was really great to come along with them and give some guidance and help with business planning and setting up the finances. I want to give money away and I want to give money away to black and brown people. And I want to see more black and brown businesses around town,” added Stephanie Williams. She is the lead business advisor for the Stride program.

So be on the lookout for Nae’s Cookout!

“We’re going through business classes right now. And that makes me feel like I can definitely do that. I just have an idea,” Crawford said.

“We’re looking to turn this soul food trailer into a movement. Not just bringing a form of what we call African American diverse food. But they open up avenues for us to try different food,” Taylor said.

Funding from the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation supports efforts to build a variety of proprietary businesses.

For more information about the Stride program:

The Touchstone celebration is coming up on Thursday, November 10, at 6:30 p.m.

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