Two Goals Towards One End: Fostering New Models of Doing Business in Detroit

Goal#1: Create a business plan for an energy company  

Before I get to goal #1, my goal #0.5 is to assess the feasibility of starting an energy company that could grow to scale. I need to have an informed idea of what it would take before I can decide whether I feel that I’m willing and/or able to go any further.

So then, based on the results of the initial assessment, I will determine whether my goal of developing a formal business plan for the venture is worth pursuing (i.e. whether it would be worth the investment additional time, research, and resources to prepare a formal business plan).

Benefits
As I mentioned in my video, I have very mixed feelings about my day job. I’m not sure that this is the space to go into details about why and how the systems that frame the context of my work with nonprofit business support providers and CDFIs are fundamentally broken, but in short, I will say that our work does little to fundamentally challenge the reality that many of the women and minority-owned businesses that we serve are not profitable, cannot grow to scale, lack access to capital and real estate, do not set up their businesses in ways that promote community wealth building, etc.

Through my work, I am complicit in abetting and perpetuating the broken systems and status quo manifested in the outcomes that I just described. My motivation for wanting to start an energy company-and, as a first step, achieve this goal- is that I feel deeply that it’s not enough to say that I wish for an alternative; I have to build the alternative and/or support others who are building it.

To be honest, I would LOVE to ride someone else’s coattails on this. But where is that someone with a vision and commitment to trying this to be found?

In the absence of having identified him/her yet, I can only take it upon myself to satisfy 1) my curiosity about whether this is feasible and 2) my desire to create the reality which I wish to see.

Obstacles
Me. I can easily be held back by “what ifs” or “I can’ts”. However, I feel that this 6-week incubator is the perfect opportunity to put my doubt, fear, analysis paralysis and all of the other junk that tends to hold me back aside to allow my values, imagination, curiosity, and intuition to lead me towards my goals.

Time. It takes time- sacrificing one of the most valuable and seemingly scarce goods that I have- to do the necessary research to draft the first informal assessment and even more to do the formal business plan. Am I committed enough to silence my fears and doubts and sacrifice time to do the work?

Skills and Knowledge Required

  • Confidence!
  • Knowledge of existing models for such ventures and of other possibilities that deviate from what’s been done before
  • An understanding of the technology and how one builds/manages an energy company. What is the required infrastructure? Knowledge? Technology? What is the potential profitability and sustainability of such a venture?
  • Long term: the ability to motivate others to join me as partners and investors

People & Groups
People and groups who could help me along the way towards this goal are:

  • My CPA cohort members
  • My friends Ale and Yannick
  • The network of local TA and resource providers that I manage through my day job

Plan of Action

  • Clearly outline the components that I need to cover in my feasibility assessment
  • Create a list of people that I need to talk to + reach out to them (Jonathan, Carrie, and Felipe are already on the list )
  • Create a list of books/articles that I need to read for research purposes
  • Identify which TA providers in my network would be most helpful to coach me along through the process, depending on the results of the feasibility analysis

Deadline for Achievement

  • The deadline for the initial feasibility assessment is in 5 weeks (the end of this program).
  • The deadline for the formal business plan, should it come to that is… maybe Spring 2020? It will depend on which TA provider I need to work with.

Goal#2: Plant Seeds of Interest about the CPA Model

My goal is to transform expectations around how and why businesses operate. For me, that looks like aiming to model a different way of doing business at scale by actually building a business (as in, goal #1). It also looks like talking with other socially-minded folks to consider how they can use business as a vehicle to advance their missions in ways that are more financially sustainable than grants and donations.

In practice, this goal looks like me having conversations with x number of community activists, people in my network through work, and/or influencers about CPA’s model and maybe other models.

Benefits
I get to plant seeds of interest and inspire leaders to do something without actually having to take the lead on doing the something myself.

Obstacles
See above.

Skills & Knowledge Required

  • Charisma to motivate others
  • How to make my message compelling
  • Who are the right people to reach out to?

People & Groups

  • Folks from organizations in my network such as the Center for Community- Based Enterprise, Wayne State University’s Social Enterprise Certificate program, etc.
  • My co-worker Jamii

Plan of Action

  • Refine my list of 3-5 people with whom I’d like to share the information
  • Gather enough information to actually make a useful presentation/give substantive information and insights
  • Seek out speaking opportunities and/or invite the people on my list to coffee, etc.

Deadline for Achievement

  • Within the month following the end of the Incubator, I want to have scheduled my coffees and applied to speaking opportunities to share the information that I’ve gained.

Author: Janai G.

There's something in me that makes me want to share my experiences and reflections with others. I write and I podcast because those are currently the tools of expression at my disposal. If there ever comes a day when I can channel my thoughts and feelings through art, music or something else, you'll see it on this blog, too.

8 thoughts on “Two Goals Towards One End: Fostering New Models of Doing Business in Detroit”

  1. I am so inspired by your first goal and in awe of your vision and courage. Truly.
    I totally relate to your frustrations with the broken system that you are currently operating within. I have experienced that throughout my career — so, right on, is what I have to say. I did not have the gumption, confidence or vision to create the alternative(s) that I knew were needed. My experience was to leave a job and look for an alternative place to apply my skills and energy. As it turns out, I have yet to meet a system in the U.S. that doesn’t seem riddled with fundamental flaws. So, I applaud that you have a clear vision to explore.
    From my minimal exposure to you, I would say that I see that you have the charisma and qualities it takes to attract others to join you to create a new reality. I am excited to get to witness your embarking down the road of exploring the feasibility of creating an energy company. May the force be with you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Janai! First of all, this is my confirmation that I will absolutely help you with Goals #0, 0.5, 1, 2, to infinity. Sign me up!
    Second, what type of energy company would you like to start? Is this a company that generates power, manufactures infrastructure for clean energy projects, etc.? Sky’s the limit, so what feels right?
    Finally, what are the criteria for your feasibility assessment that will determine whether to pursue writing a business plan? How will you define “feasible?”
    Separately, I also wanted to comment that in my goal to establish a network of people interested in investing in and lifting up women- or POC-owned businesses (format/details TBD), I will be sure to refer any resonating stories/people your way to add to your research for Goal #2!
    Amazing work and can’t wait to get started with you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Janai- I am so glad you are here. This line blew my socks off: “I am complicit in abetting and perpetuating the broken systems and status quo…”
    Wow. You mentioned something similar in your video, but these are strong words. “Complicit” & “perpetuating the broken systems” — they both resonate deeply. I feel similarly about my complicity in the exploitation of people with my retirement investments.
    Your words also make me super curious — what’s so wrong with these non-profit business support organizations? What’s wrong with the CDFIs?
    Is it that they’re pushing people to dream smaller? Are they pretending to help them but then none of them are actually successful? I’m very curious because my partner Merald and I in Durham are curious how much we should engage with the minority business support community that on paper seem to be doing a lot, but it’s hard to figure out what’s really going on.
    Your goal about starting an energy company is brilliant. It’s audacious, it’s bold, but I think you’re the kind of leader who’s grounded in your motivation & not taking a small vision. I’m totally excited to introduce you to Jahi Wise from BlocPower & other black-owned energy company folks I’ve come across and worked with: https://www.power52.org/ . https://www.volt-energy.com http://www.bithenergy.com/our-people
    As for a deeper question:
    Is this the first time you’ve had a dream / vision / goal this big?
    If not, What’s kept you from achieving your audacious goals in the past?
    If so, what’s giving you the confidence and this ambition? How do you get more of that? What supports can you continue to put in place & can we as an Incubator team help you with?
    Thank you so much for showing up and being here with your full self.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Janai I love this. Happy to see I’m on your list of people to talk to because I’m excited to connect more on all of this! I particularly loved your “To be honest, I would LOVE to ride someone else’s coattails on this. But where is that someone with a vision and commitment to trying this to be found?” and that you therefore need to follow up out of curiosity and a sense of obligation to create this world that you know is possible. I know that feeling – it’s sssuuuppperr vulnerable to take a risk, even to just start asking questions about starting something new. Beginning may even be the hardest part – the part that takes the most bravery – as it’s the place of the most unknown. And now you’ve done it! Nice!

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    2. Thanks for your questions and insights, Felipe! I figured that before I dive into my RS for prompt#2, I needed to take a step back and contemplate how my thoughts and feelings have evolved since prompt#1.

      To your questions:
      what’s so wrong with these non-profit business support organizations? What’s wrong with the CDFIs?

      Nothing is “wrong” with the nonprofit, per se. In theory, they want to serve entrepreneurs who lack access to resources. However, they/we must be aware that the ultimate product of their work is to provide supports so that people can participate in systems that are fundamentally broken to begin with. We pour all of our focus and resources into mitigating the impact of dominant economic and social practices that lead to these entrepreneurs being marginalized in the first place instead of dedicating more attention and resources to a) shaking the gates of power or b) demonstrating new models of economic development underpinned by values such as community wealth building or the democratization of decision making and profits to works. In effect, we are saying, “we accept that the context in which we operate is fundamentally flawed and that the networks and systems that we’re helping our entrepreneurs connect to are set up to perpetuate the advantage of those with wealth and power while allowing “the market” to sideline others. We’re doing the best we can.” How much more radical/transformational would our work be if we instead said, “Yes, the system is broken. We’ll help people in this context get ahead. And we also commit to exploring and piloting alternative models for creating businesses that reflect values of a more just, humane economy and society. And we insist on engaging with power wielding allies from government and elsewhere to elevate these new approaches to entrepreneurship and neighborhood economic development. ”

      Is it that they’re pushing people to dream smaller? Are they pretending to help them but then none of them are actually successful?

      No, it’s not that they’re pushing people to dream smaller. In fact, it would probably be helpful if the entrepreneurs that they served dared to dream bigger, i.e. thought critically about their chosen industry and market conditions in that industry and considered doing something that hadn’t been done in Detroit so many times already (e.g. a cupcake shop, a soul food restaurant, a hair salon).

      The organizations are doing tremendous work to get businesses to the point of success (recognizing that not every business can be a “success” in terms of profitability). But the reality is that if a business opens with the exclusive goal of being profitable-not an easy goal in many cases-and generating income for the owners, it won’t be as impactful for the community as if the business had opened with the idea of embodying values such as worker ownership or other forms of community wealth building. For example, one of the small business owners that I’ve talked to owns a gaming company. The various TA providers that he’s worked with advised him to have the games manufactured overseas to save money. However, this is at odds with the entrepreneur’s goal of creating jobs for local Detroiters and investing in the city.

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  4. Janai I love this. Happy to see I’m on your list of people to talk to because I’m excited to connect more on all of this! I particularly loved your “To be honest, I would LOVE to ride someone else’s coattails on this. But where is that someone with a vision and commitment to trying this to be found?” and that you therefore need to follow up out of curiosity and a sense of obligation to create this world that you know is possible. I know that feeling – it’s sssuuuppperr vulnerable to take a risk, even to just start asking questions about starting something new. Beginning may even be the hardest part – the part that takes the most bravery – as it’s the place of the most unknown. And now you’ve done it! Nice!

    Like

  5. Hi Janai! I’m not in your group but I’m out here pulling for you. Your post made me think of the term “nonreformist reform” which came up a lot in the course on “African American Intellectual Traditions” I took with Professor Murakawa in grad school over a year ago and which I think about frequently as a county employee in Los Angeles. How can those of us who are pragmatists and want to act and have power in the world as it is nevertheless be careful not to invest our talents, time and creativity into “solutions” which more solidly entrench the structures of death which we ultimately want to dismantle? My work here in LA is with one of the newer offices implementing some of he most exciting work around criminal justice reform in this country…and yet in order to do it we so often have to work with, at least partially adopt the language and tools of and work within the existing broken system of punitive/retributive justice which I, and many of my colleagues, want to to away with completely. So I guess this is just a comment to say: I hear you. And also I’m super impressed with your goal.

    Ending with this poem, in honor of Adrienne Maree Brown’s writing style and as a gift since I find such beauty in this one:

    Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

    by Wendell Berry

    Love the quick profit, the annual raise,

    vacation with pay. Want more

    of everything ready-made. Be afraid

    to know your neighbors and to die.

    And you will have a window in your head.

    Not even your future will be a mystery

    any more. Your mind will be punched in a card

    and shut away in a little drawer.

    When they want you to buy something

    they will call you. When they want you

    to die for profit they will let you know.

    So, friends, every day do something

    that won’t compute. Love the Lord.

    Love the world. Work for nothing.

    Take all that you have and be poor.

    Love someone who does not deserve it.

    Denounce the government and embrace

    the flag. Hope to live in that free

    republic for which it stands.

    Give your approval to all you cannot

    understand. Praise ignorance, for what man

    has not encountered he has not destroyed.

    Ask the questions that have no answers.

    Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.

    Say that your main crop is the forest

    that you did not plant,

    that you will not live to harvest.

    Say that the leaves are harvested

    when they have rotted into the mold.

    Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

    Put your faith in the two inches of humus

    that will build under the trees

    every thousand years.

    Listen to carrion — put your ear

    close, and hear the faint chattering

    of the songs that are to come.

    Expect the end of the world. Laugh.

    Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful

    though you have considered all the facts.

    So long as women do not go cheap

    for power, please women more than men.

    Ask yourself: Will this satisfy

    a woman satisfied to bear a child?

    Will this disturb the sleep

    of a woman near to giving birth?

    Go with your love to the fields.

    Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head

    in her lap. Swear allegiance

    to what is nighest your thoughts.

    As soon as the generals and the politicos

    can predict the motions of your mind,

    lose it. Leave it as a sign

    to mark the false trail, the way

    you didn’t go. Be like the fox

    who makes more tracks than necessary,

    some in the wrong direction.

    Practice resurrection.

    Liked by 2 people

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