DBusiness Daily Update: Fifth Third Foundation Grants $1.2M for Black, Women-owned Businesses, MSU and LCC Partner to Improve Access to Higher Education, and More

Our roundup of the latest news from metro Detroit and Michigan businesses as well as announcements from government agencies, including updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.
chart of Michigan coronavirus cases
Courtesy of Bridge

Our roundup of the latest news from metro Detroit and Michigan businesses as well as announcements from government agencies, including updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.

Detroit Companies Get Fifth Third Foundation Grants for Black, Woman-owned Businesses
Twelve Detroit-based businesses are among the recipients of $1.2 million in grants from the Fifth Third Foundation, part of its Innovation Meets Main Street: Boosting Black, Woman-owned Businesses program.

The Detroit companies join those in Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Louisville, Ky.; and Orlando, Fla. receiving grants. They include:

  • Denson Construction Services
  • IVY Kitchen
  • Paralee Boyd
  • RSVP Premier Group
  • The Law Firm of Amale Knox
  • Lil Brilliant Mindz
  • Terri’s Cakes Detroit
  • My Dream Dress Bridal Salon
  • Loose Massage Therapy Plus
  • Genanscot Services
  • Detroit Smart Pages Newspaper

“We know owning and operating a business creates wealth and a legacy,” says Stefanie Steward-Young, chief corporate social responsibility officer at Fifth Third Bank. “Yet Black-owned business owners often face challenges securing capital to start and maintain their business — even more so during these challenging times. This initiative couldn’t be more vital for Black communities in metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Louisville, Nashville and Orlando. We are glad to have been a force behind this initiative.”

Innovation Meets Main Street fills a need in the economies of Black communities and for the small business community. Studies show that 41 percent of Black-owned businesses have been shuttered during the pandemic.

“We were able to both sustain our operations and grow our business,” says Garnet Conerway of Terri’s Cakes Detroit. “As we continue to shift during this time, grants help us gain access to the supplies we need in the quantities we need them in. As supplies are in high demand, we need to purchase things in bulk quantities. The grants helped us with that significantly. Additionally, we were able to stay current on our bills during the lulls in business. Without these grants, we may have had to close our doors.”

MSU and Lansing Community College Partner to Improve Access to Higher Education
Michigan State University in East Lansing and Lansing Community College have formalized a partnership that improves access to a four-year degree, increases student success, and helps build a pipeline of talent to meet the needs of the mid-Michigan economy.

The partnership, called Envision Green, also provides a transition from LCC to MSU by embedding MSU advisors within LCC to guide students through their educational journey — a transition more than 5,500 LCC students have made over the last decade.

With this partnership in place, prospective LCC students can consider MSU from the start of their higher education journey. The affordability of the LCC-to-MSU path means a four-year-degree is an option for more people in the region — crucial for building and retaining an educated workforce in Michigan.

“This partnership provides an open, clear path for the journey from LCC to MSU that many students take each year,” says Dr. Samuel L. Stanley, president of MSU. “LCC is one of the top-rated community colleges in the nation, and they happen to be our neighbor. We are proud to collaborate with their team on promoting college access, affordability, and student success in the region.”

It is estimated that community colleges are the entry point for close to half of America’s post-secondary students.

“This agreement will make the transition for our students seamless as they continue their studies and complete their academic goals nearby,” says Steve Robinson, president of LCC. “Greatly expanding our partnership with MSU allows us to continue to provide our students with the high-quality educational and life experiences they deserve.”

As part of the relationship outlined in the Envision Green memorandum of understanding: MOU, the institutions will:

  • Provide two MSU academic advisors one day a week on LCC’s Downtown Campus.
  • Communicate MSU transfer credit changes and MSU transfer credit process changes to MSU advisors at LCC as well as LCC employees.
  • Work individually with LCC students to facilitate a smooth transition from LCC to MSU.
  • Promote policies that will encourage students who start at LCC to finish their associate degrees before transferring to MSU.

For more information, visit here.

Comcast to Invest $1B Over Next 10 Years to Improve Low-income Digital Access
Comcast announced it will invest $1 billion over the next 10 years to help further close the digital divide and give even more low-income Americans the tools and resources they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world.

The announcement coincides with the release of a 10-year progress report showing that, since 2011 when Comcast created its Internet Essentials program, the company has 10 million people in America to broadband Internet at home, the overwhelming majority of whom were not connected prior to signing up.

In the Internet Essentials program, Comcast works in collaboration with its network of thousands of nonprofit partners to connect low-income households to the Internet.

Comcast’s $1 billion commitment will include investments in a number of critical areas, including: additional support for its ongoing Lift Zone initiative, which establishes WiFi-connected safe spaces in more than 1,000 community centers nationwide for students and adults by the end of 2021; new laptop and computer donations; grants for nonprofit community organizations to create opportunities for low-income Americans, particularly in media, technology, and entrepreneurship; and continued investment in the company’s Internet Essentials program.

It is estimated that these new commitments will impact as many as 50 million Americans over the next decade. In 2021 alone, Comcast estimates students will be able to complete more than 25 million hours of remote learning lessons to further address the “homework gap” at the hundreds of Lift Zone locations that have already opened or will open soon.

“Ten years is a remarkable milestone, signifying an extraordinary amount of work and collaboration with our incredible community partners across the country,” says Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable. “Together, we have been able to connect millions of people to the power of the Internet at home, and to the endless opportunity, education, growth, and discovery it provides. Today, we are rededicating ourselves to this mission to ensure that the next generation of students in America has the tools, resources, and abilities they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world.”

This new commitment comes on the heels of a series of initiatives announced during the COVID-19 pandemic that reinforced the company’s commitment to addressing the digital divide and the homework gap by upping speeds to 50 Mbps downstream without changing the program’s $9.95/month price. The company also continues to offer 60 days of free Internet service to new Internet Essentials customers who sign up before June 30.

Girl Boss Fashions Expands into Downtown Detroit
Girl Boss Fashions, a women’s apparel boutique founded by Detroit native Tenisia Evans, announced it will open a new pop-up location in downtown Detroit on April 3.

Located at Bedrock’s 1232 Library St., the shop is on the ground floor of The Z, next to local brands including Mootz Pizzeria + Bar, Vault of Midnight, Citizen Yoga, 7 Greens, and NOJO Kicks. The pop-up is slated to operate for six months.

“My motto since day one as an entrepreneur is ‘all things are possible to those that believe’,” says Evans. “I believe Girl Boss Fashions will inspire women to live more confidently and I believe downtown Detroit is ready to experience our brand.”

Evans started Girl Boss Fashions in 2016 after struggling to find clothing that both fit her well and that she felt comfortable and confident wearing. Initially a platform to sell her customized, inspirational bling T-shirts, Evans found success and launched an online shop and her first store in 2017 on the east side of Detroit. Girl Boss Fashions has its original shop in Detroit on Kelly Road, and has since expanded to Lakeside Mall, Partridge Creek, and Macomb Mall.

“Supporting creative entrepreneurs like Tenisia Evans is at the core of our retail strategy,” says Ivy Greaner, COO of Bedrock. “Girl Boss Fashions has a powerful mission and we look forward to connecting downtown shoppers to a rockstar local brand.”

Girl Boss Fashions’ mission is to provide women of all sizes quality pieces that are fashion-forward, figure-flattering, and stylish. Evans encourages every woman to “act like a lady and dress like a boss.” The brand caters to a wide range of ages and sells apparel for every occasion. Each piece of clothing is hand-picked by Evans with sizes ranging from XS-4X.

Detroit Jazz Festival Kicks Off with Livestream Preview Event April 7
The Detroit Jazz Festival will kick off with a livestreamed announcement of its 2021 Festival lineup on Wednesday, April 7. It will not only include the lineup for the Labor Day weekend event, but also feature live performances by artist-in-residence Dee Dee Bridgewater and Cuban pianist Omar Sosa.

The Detroit Jazz Festival Livestream Preview Event will take place without audiences in recognition of current, city, state, and federal safety guidelines for public gatherings during the pandemic. All performances will be streamed live from two indoor stages in the future home of the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center at Wayne State University in Detroit.

The Michigan Hispanic Collaborative, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., and the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation Jazz Guardians are presenting sponsors.

Jazz enthusiasts will be able to view the event and live performances on the festival’s web site and YouTube; or on the proprietary Detroit Jazz Fest LIVE! app available on the App Store and Google Play.

“Last year, we preserved our 41-year legacy and produced a festival that was safe, live and free to nearly a million jazz fans around the globe; truly an unprecedented moment in jazz history,” said Chris Collins, Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation president and artistic director.  “We look forward to leveraging that experience to keep our 42-year legacy intact and continue our mission of delivering free jazz to audiences here and abroad.”

Collins also says a decision on the Festival’s format (in person or virtual) will be made in June/July.  “We’ll continue to monitor and adhere to the current local, state federal guidelines and make a decision(s) based on the best interest(s) of keeping our patrons safe,” he said.

The 3-hour preview event, which begins at 6:30 p.m., will also include a special student performance featuring Wayne State University jazz students participating in the educational branch of the Havana-Detroit Jazz Project.

Ross Mortgage Expands into North Carolina Market
Ross Mortgage Corp., headquartered in Troy, is expanding into the North Carolina market with a first-to-market branch location in Cornelius.

“Ross Mortgage continues its strategic expansion across the Eastern U.S. seeking the best residential markets and experts to introduce the Ross Way of mortgage lending to North Carolina home buyers,” says Tim Ross, CEO of Ross Mortgage. “We are proud to have hired three local mortgage experts for our first-to-market location, offering customers insightful and efficient mortgage lending services catered to their unique home buying and financing journey.”

Michael Fischer will serve as branch manager and is joined by local loan officers Arielle Best and Rosalie Petrone, and loan officer assistant Nathan Ramsay. The team will provide a full range of mortgage products to fit any home buyer’s financial needs. They also will be responsible for originating loans and coordinating community outreach efforts to build relationships with local residents and real estate professionals.

Ross Mortgage, founded in 1949, operates in 13 states through a network of offices located in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Maryland.

Simiron Inc.’s Mask-Aide Designed to Ease Breathing
Madison Heights-based Simiron Inc. has created an insert for protective face masks called Mask-Aide that are designed to make masks more comfortable and efficient.

The patent-pending design is foldable and creates an air pocket within the mask to help wearers breathe easier. It also reduces muffling, making speech clearer and easier to understand.

“Mask-Aide was born out of necessity for our employees,” says Simon Palushaj, president of Simiron Inc. “We were hearing daily complaints about the use of masks at our plant and from our office staff. We tried virtually every mask design available and our employees were not satisfied with the performance. We were equally astonished that we could not find any designs that were made in the U.S.A. Being a Michigan manufacturer, that was a very important factor to us.”

Mask-Aide’s foldable feature and magnetic fastener, which holds the insert in place, are the biggest innovations for this product, according to the company. One of the biggest complaints Simiron Inc. heard about other mask brackets or inserts is that they continuously slide down the face, requiring constant adjusting. The magnetic fastener is the solution to this problem. The insert also is designed to be adjustable to fit the user’s unique face pattern and size. The foldability makes it easier to store in a pocket or purse.

Another benefit to the design is that the insert keeps lipstick and make-up off the mask, which Simiron Inc.’s female employees name as one of the best features of the new mask insert. The smooth material keeps sweat to a minimum compared to the other soft silicone products on the market that trap moisture.

“This product enhances breathing so significantly that several of our employees also use it during their gym workouts,” Pulushaj adds. “Simply stated, our employees now can’t leave their houses without it and our productivity is back to pre-covid levels.”

Mask-Aide can be used with many mask styles, including cloth masks and common medical masks.

For more information, visit here.

Hope Network’s Center for Autism Finds Home at Former Ladywood High School
After $1 million in improvements, the Hope Network has opened its new Center for Autism at the former site of Ladywood High School in Livonia.

The former Ladywood campus also is half occupied by Madonna University’s Performing Arts, Athletics, and Academic Center. Hope Network and Madonna are partners in this venture.

With its fifth and newest Michigan location, Hope Network Center for Autism has expanded its services to southeastern Michigan, providing “high-quality evidence-based treatment to children newly diagnosed up to 21 years old.”

“The process of getting the support that a child with autism and their families need can be complicated but we’re here to help make the process as smooth as possible,” says Margaret Moore, clinical director of the Center for Autism.

While the Livonia Center for Autism currently is only serving families with private insurance, it hopes to receive approval to support the needs of families with Medicaid coverage in the future. To do that, Hope Network’s Center for Autism adheres to top standards of care to help support the 1-in-54 children that are diagnosed with autism. It offers individualized treatment that averages from 10-40 hours per week for each learner. In-home and telehealth also is available depending on a learner’s specific needs.

“Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job,” Moore says. “We want the learners that we serve to be able to smoothly transition to their next setting when they are ready. For many of our learners that next setting is a school. Being in a repurposed school building is an opportunity to be able to work on developing skills in a setting that will be similar to the setting we are working toward transitioning to in the future.”

For more information, visit here.

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