Touchstone Honoree: Entrepreneur Fund helps BIPOC entrepreneurs succeed

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

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

She’s really going with me. “I took the three-year deal test. It runs fine. And I love it so much It excites me and I keep thinking of new ideas.”

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

And there is guidance for growth. “They helped me with the funding and it helps me to continue my dream of buying another food truck. So I can host weddings and do more events,” Jenkins said.

Up in Woodland, Yasuko Holt is also living her dream. “I enjoy making people happy. And I think the food is up there,” she told us.

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

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

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

Holt is already planning to take this show to the streets. “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 food truck with Japanese food,” Holt said.

And yet another food company, Nae’s Cookout, is yet to come together. “We have a beautiful menu together,” shared Renee Crawford, co-founder.

She and Lamar Taylor, the other co-founder, are planning a backyard barbecue-style trailer where you can order and eat al fresco at tables with music.

They just brought some of Lamar’s handicrafts to the Entrepreneur Fund to show to the Advisory Board.

All three companies are part of the Stride program, which was developed a few years ago when the fund decided to make diversity a focus.

“We’ve found that many are underrepresented and yet all the time we just meet amazing people who don’t know each other. So we thought we had to create a sense of community,” said Shawn Wellnitz, the fund’s CEO.

The client joins either as a start-up or as an existing company. It means classes and resources.

“The classes are the educational piece. We have access to capital and that is a big problem. And there is the community among other entrepreneurs and also our committee. The committee has some really great feedback to share,” said Andrea Black. She is the Director of Business Services.

The fund is really proud of what is happening.

“It was really cool to be by their side and give them some guidance and help with business planning and financial planning. I want to give money away, and I want to give money away to black people and brown people. And I want to see more black and brown companies in the city,” added Stephanie Williams. She is the lead business consultant for the Stride program.

So keep an eye out for Nae’s Cookout!

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

“We want to make this soul food trailer a movement. Don’t bring just one form of what we call African American diversity food. But we’re opening up lanes so we can try different foods,” Taylor said.

Funding from the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation supports efforts to establish various businesses of their own.

More information about the Stride program:

The Touchstone Celebration will take place on Thursday, November 10 at 6:30 p.m.


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