Touchstone Honoree: Entrepreneur Fund is helping BIPOC business owners thrive

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

“This is why I do what I do. Being here in the community, and feeding the farmers,” she told us, in between serving tacos at a farmers market.

She’s really trucking along. “I’ve done the test of the three year business. It’s going well. And I love it so much. It excites me, and I’m continuously thinking of new ideas.”

She told us that the Entrepreneur Fund has been instrumental in helping build her website and her mission statement.

And there’s guidance for growth. “They helped me with funding, and it’s helping me continue 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 as well. “It’s my pleasure to make people happy. And I think food is up there,” she told us.

She’s the owner of Zen House, which she 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 into the next phase.

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

Holt is already looking to take this show on the road. “I’d 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 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 on having a trailer set-up, backyard BBQ style, where you can order and eat outdoors 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 a few years ago when the fund decided to make diversity a focus.

“We realized there’s a lot of under representation and yet we’re meeting just fantastic people all of the time, and they don’t know each other. So we thought we’ve got to create a sense of community,” explained Shawn Wellnitz, the CEO of the fund.

Client join as either a start-up or existing business. It means classes and resources.

“The classes are the education piece. We have access to capital, and that’s a huge issue. And there’s the community among other entrepreneurs, and also our committee. The committee has just really great feedback to share,” Andrea Black said. She’s the Director of Business Services.

The fund is really proud of what’s happening.

“It’s been really cool to kind of come alongside them and give some guidance and help in business planning, and figuring out 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,” Stephanie Williams added. She’s 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 it’s making me feel like I can definitely do this. From me just having an idea,” Crawford said.

“We are looking to make this soul food trailer a movement. Not just bringing a form of what we call African American diversity food. But opening up lanes for us to taste different food,” Taylor said.

Funding from the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation support the effort to build diverse owned businesses.

For more info about the Stride program:

The Touchstone Celebration is coming up on Thursday, November 10th, at 6:30pm.