Arts and crafts were a hobby for Felicia Stanley. But once her three children were off to college, her hobby – crafting character-themed lamp shades and custom nightlights – became something more.
Her colleagues at Sparrow Hospital caught wind of her talent and inundated her with requests, offering to pay for her custom shades and outlet covers. From there, Shadey Bizness was born.
Six years later, Stanley works by day in forensics at the hospital and operates Shadey Bizness part-time. She uses a 3D printer to manufacture the lights and sells them at Inge's Place and Lakeview Card & Gift Shop, both in Battle Creek.
Hoping to make the “Bizness” more profitable, Stanley has worked with the Center for Entrepreneurship (CfE) in Battle Creek since January.
“They’re the hub of everything you would need if you had a business,” Stanley said about the center, which she credits for helping her to improve the overall operational efficiency and cost structure of her business.
Supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the center is a division of the Battle Creek-based Generation E Institute (GenEI), whose mission is to connect aspiring or established entrepreneurs to the resources they need to grow their business.
“Most entrepreneurs don’t really know where to go,” said Cheryl Peters, GenEI executive director. “Being that first-stop shop is really a benefit to the community and to attracting small business development.”
The center serves as a referral hub for its 13 partner organizations that provide their own brand of entrepreneurial services, including grant making and small business workshops. In addition, the center has 15 service providers, including attorneys, graphic designers and copywriters, who offer services pro bono or at a reduced cost.
“Everybody has their function so that we don’t overlap,” Peters said, adding CfE also helps entrepreneurs build a business plan with “The Business Model Canvas,” created by Swiss business theorist Alexander Osterwalder. “The business model gets people to look at the whole picture of what it means to be a business owner and realize there are partners and there are ways of doing things.”
Since 2009, CfE has helped about 140 entrepreneurs of all ages – including children – start and grow their businesses, from hair salons to nonprofits.
“I think if you can dream it, it probably has made its way to the center,” said Kristin Brennan, who manages community outreach for GenEI.
The center also partners with employment services agency Michigan Works! to help entrepreneurs find sustainable employment while developing their businesses.
Amanda Lankerd, GenEI program developer, said budding entrepreneurs face many barriers, from access to capital to financial literacy, and said center staff and their partners are working to remove those challenges to spur economic growth in Battle Creek and neighboring communities, including connecting entrepreneurs and investors.
This summer, the CfE and its partners will host a three-day business-planning competition for startup entrepreneurs called “ Startup Fest.” During the inaugural event, entrepreneurs will network with executives and professionals from various industries to cultivate a team of mentors, who can help them develop a business pitch to present to a panel of judges on the final day. The best pitch wins $2,500.
“I think it helps to provide or at least cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit in the community that these opportunities and resources are available in Battle Creek that have never really existed before,” Lankerd said.
Peters credits survey results from BC Vision, the community economic development initiative launched with support from the Kellogg Foundation and Kellogg Company last year, with elevating job creation as a top priority in Battle Creek, where the unemployment rate is 5.3 percent. Data gathered also showed a demand for small business services.
“It has provided us with more exposure and allowed us to meet new partners,” Peters said about BC Vision’s community outreach, adding the CfE continues to increase its visibility by raising more awareness of its services to improve economic stability throughout metropolitan Battle Creek.
Stanley said she is making plans to expand and eventually would like her custom shades and nightlights on store shelves across America.
“I just have that passion to be bigger,” said Stanley. “I would like to walk in to Walmart or Sam’s Club somewhere and see Shadey Bizness.”