Greater Lansing’s business landscape has changed since the onset of the pandemic, encompassing more entrepreneurs, and there are no signs of slowing down.
The Lansing Area commercial partnership has seen a surge in entrepreneurial activity over the past 18 months, said Joe Carr, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation. It almost matches the numbers the organization has seen over the past five years.
“Otherwise there might not have been an opportunity and people had to look at what they can do or learn new skills from it,” he said. “Some people took stock and reevaluated what they wanted to do. For others, it’s how they started out with that mindset.”
Small business owned equity has also grown.
Tony Willis, LEAP’s chief equity development officer, said more blacks, browns, LGBTQ and other diverse business owners are getting into the field, which is boosting the region’s economy.
LEAP has redesigned its approach to entrepreneurs with Willis’ position, internal revisions, and creating or improving their programs. The One and All program, according to Carr, is the most comprehensive crash course program there is.
Carr said entrepreneurs like DeAnna Ray Brown of Everything is Cheesecake and Najeema Iman of YouShine Events and Consulting completed the program earlier this year.
“The moral is, people still think it’s possible and want their ideas to move forward,” Willis said. “You are still hopeful and have the fire to move your idea forward.”
Here’s a look at five entrepreneurs who are leaving their mark in Greater Lansing that are worth keeping an eye on in 2022.
DeAnna Ray-Brown, Everything is Cheesecake
Five years ago, DeAnna Ray-Brown, 40, spent her days answering complaint calls from her home in Lansing as a customer service representative for a car rental company. She spent her evenings making cheesecakes in her kitchen.
Today Ray-Brown’s popular food truck store Everything is Cheesecake is a regular stop for dessert fans who queue on South Cedar Street on the weekends to get a slice of one of their creations.
Her store will open its first storefront at 5214 S. Cedar St. in Lansing early next year.
Success is something it manifests, said Ray-Brown.
“I always have an idea of where my life wants to be, even if it is in the future,” she said.
When the 1,300-square-foot storefront opens, Ray-Brown says the interior will reflect who she is.
“I plan for this place to be like a trip to where I’ve come from and where I’m going, and I want other people to experience that too,” she said.
And in three years? “It will definitely be a big staple here in Lansing,” said Ray-Brown, who is hoping to expand and open additional locations in other cities.
Jenn Carpenter, Deadtime Stories
Whether she’s writing a book, narrating a podcast, overseeing a bus tour to the area’s most infamous locations, or occupying the front desk of her stores in Lansings REO Town, Jenn Carpenter stays in the niche she knows best.
Carpenter, 41, made a name for himself exploring dark and creepy places, history, and real crime.
She is the author of two books – Haunted Lansing and The Cereal Killer Chronicles of Battle Creek – and the founder of Demented Mitten Tours, which get up close and personal with spooky spots in the middle of Michigan. She is also the creative force behind “So Dead,” a podcast that focuses on Michigan’s true crimes and paranormal stories.
Their annual event highlighting all things scary, A Festival of Oddities, celebrated its third year this fall at the 1885 Eaton County Courthouse in Charlotte.
And that year, Carpenter opened two new storefronts – Deadtime Stories: True Crime & Other Books, a bookstore on a 600-square-foot storefront on South Washington Avenue, and The Screamatorium, an ice cream and souvenir store next door.
“I love everything I do,” said Carpenter, although it’s hard for her to predict what’s next.
“It all happened so quickly,” she said. “I would probably not have said three years ago that I would see myself here.”
Carpenter is already writing her next book and plans to expand her storefronts in Lansing as she draws attention to unsolved murders in the area with her podcast.
Justin Caine, Good Fruit Video
One shouldn’t underestimate someone with a disability, said Justin Caine, and hiring them should be a “no-brainer”.
Caine knows this better than most. He suffers from ataxia, loses full control of his body movements and has problems with balance and fine motor skills. His speech is slow, sometimes sluggish – all the result of a large cancerous tumor in Caine’s cerebellum that had bleeding when he was 10.
He spent almost five months in the hospital and learned to walk, speak, and swallow again. Today he says he is proof that people with disabilities are driven to succeed. Caine is an aspiring Paralympic athlete, small business owner, and advocate for disability.
“The dedication and drive from people with disabilities is incredible,” said Caine. “As people with disabilities, so many people doubt you and so many expect nothing from you. The chances you have are less than with a person without a disability. “
The result, according to Caine, is that people with disabilities are working harder.
At Good Fruit Video, the video production company he co-founded in 2008 and based in East Lansing, more than half of the employees have a disability.
That year, Good Fruit was named Small Business of the Year 2021 by the Michigan Diversity Council.
“I knew if I could find the right people with disabilities who had doubts but were motivated, they would take our business to the next level,” said Caine. “Ultimately, in three years’ time, Good Fruit wants to be a much bigger organization than we are today.”
Parker Curtis, Rahjah Evans, Wild Fern Wellness
The LGBTQ-centric wellness center at 2929 Covington Court in Lansing Township grew from 6 to 20 providers in nine months of operation. Neither therapist Parker Curtis-Evans, 45, nor accounting specialist Rahjah Curtis-Evans, 33, could have predicted the growth of their company.
Curtis initially intended that it should be a private practice after they were forced to move into private life following the outbreak of the pandemic. Her intention has been to serve marginalized communities as it is difficult for them to find a trusted and safe therapist.
Wild fern wellness: A new LGBTQ wellness hub for haircuts, advice, massage therapy and more
Curtis is non-binary and uses she / she pronouns. Evans is gay.
Plans have been changed to add more cosmetic services as trans and non-binary people seek resources from someone they feel safe with.
“I thought ‘why not,’ because if anything, in the worst case scenario, we would still have therapists and all of these offices would be rented out,” said Curtis.
The nesting of LGBTQ and minority friendly services in one place led the couple to transform the space into a community center, often selling local artwork and coordinating support groups.
“Countless people I’ve worked with have been against all of this,” said Evans. “I had to deal with microaggression, judgmental looks and all that. Coming here and not feeling any of it is kind of euphoric. “
The success of Wild Ferns Wellness is putting a strain on individual companies such as Rizza Benton’s Roots Hair Lounge and Sydney Eckhoff’s photo shop.
Both said the center in the building could soon be expanded upwards as more services are added. Curtis said they are focusing on recruiting a black therapist to better serve the center’s black clients. Evans tried adding other community events like toy drives, clothing donations, and support groups.
Najeem Iman, 33, saw herself as an entrepreneur from the start. She founded Curlitude, a clothing company, and Ladies Night Live Squad, a meet-up group for middle-aged women.
Both of these led to her founding YouShine Events and Consulting earlier this year.
“I just had to stop talking about it and be there,” said Iman.
Events can change people’s lives and bring them together. Iman started small in June with BLOCK: AID, which took people to Washington Square in Lansing after pandemic restrictions were relaxed.
From July to September she started the Afterglow Market in Rotary Park every Friday. The market focused on helping small businesses build their customer base.
A handful of the companies in the market were also in Iman’s One and All cohort through LEAP.
“You are only as good as your network is,” she said. “You have to maintain this network and sometimes that happens by simply helping and sometimes it’s just talking to someone.”
Afterglow market: The Afterglow Market ends on the last Friday in Rotary Park
Her main goal is to stay consistent with the project and the events she has hosted this year. Much of the next year will be for Iman to get a stationary location in the hopes of creating an incubator for other small businesses.
The Summer Marquee and Juneteenth will return next year. Iman is also participating in a new LEAP bootcamp program for entrepreneurs.
“My overall goal in everything is to make sure I support people in the community and other entrepreneurs,” she said.