Greater Lansing entrepreneurs to watch in 2022

The Greater Lansing business landscape has changed since the pandemic attack to include more entrepreneurs, and there are no signs of slowing down.

The Lansing Region Economic Partnership has seen an increase in entrepreneurial activity over the past 18 months, said Joe Carr, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation. This almost matches the numbers the organization has seen over the past five years.

“Maybe there wouldn’t have been an opportunity otherwise and people had to look at what they could do or take new skills out of it,” he said. “Some people took stock and reassessed what they wanted to do. For others, it’s the way they are where they have that mindset to start with.”

Equity in the ownership of small businesses has also increased.

Tony Willis, director of equity development at LEAP, said more black, brunette, LGBTQ and other business owners are stepping into the field, boosting the region’s economy.

LEAP has reframed its approach to entrepreneurs with Willis’ position, internal redesign and the creation or elevation of their programming. The One and All program, Carr said, is the most comprehensive crash course program available.

Carr said entrepreneurs such as DeAnna Ray Brown of Everything is Cheesecake and Najeema Iman of YouShine Events and Consulting graduated from the program earlier this year.

“The moral is that people always think it’s possible and they want to move forward with their ideas,” Willis said. “They still have hope and they have the fire to take their idea forward.”

Here are five entrepreneurs who are making their mark in Greater Lansing and who deserve to be watched in 2022.

DeAnna Ray-Brown, it’s all cheesecake

Five years ago, DeAnna Ray-Brown, 40, spent her days working as a customer service representative answering complaints calls from her Lansing home for a rental car company. She spent her evenings baking cheesecakes in her kitchen.

Today, Ray-Brown’s popular food truck company Everything is Cheesecake is a regular stop for dessert lovers who line up on weekends off South Cedar Street to get a slice of one of his creations.

ByAnna Ray-Brown

Early next year, his company will be opening its first storefront at 5214 S. Cedar St. in Lansing.

Success is something she manifests, said Ray-Brown.

“I still have a vision of where I would like my life to be, even though it’s in the future,” she said.

Upon opening the 1,300-square-foot storefront, Ray-Brown said the interior would reflect who she is.

“I anticipate this store to be like a trip from where I come to where I am going and I want other people to experience it as well,” she said.

And in three years? “It will definitely be a staple here in Lansing,” said Ray-Brown, who hopes to expand and open additional locations in other cities.

Jenn Carpenter, Deadtime Stories

Whether she’s writing a book, telling a podcast, overseeing a bus tour of the area’s most infamous places, or tending to her business counter in the REO town of Lansing, Jenn Carpenter sticks to the niche that she’s got. she knows best.

Jenn Carpenter was pictured on Deadtime Stories: True Crime & Other Books on Monday March 15, 2021 at REO Town in Lansing.

Carpenter, 41, made a name for himself exploring dark and spooky 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 offers an up-close look at the spooky places of mid-Michigan. She is also the creative force behind “So Dead,” a podcast focusing on Michigan’s real crime and paranormal stories.

Its annual event highlighting all that is scary, A Festival of Oddities, celebrated its third year at the Eaton County Courthouse in 1885 in Charlotte this fall.

And this year, Carpenter opened two new storefronts – Deadtime Stories: True Crime & Other Books, a bookstore in a 600 square foot showcase on South Washington Avenue, and The Screamatorium, an ice cream and gift shop, located next door.

“I love everything I do,” Carpenter said, although it’s hard for him to predict what will happen next.

“It all happened so fast,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t have said I saw myself here three years ago.”

Carpenter is already writing her next book and she aims to continue expanding her storefronts in Lansing, while raising awareness of the unsolved murders in the area with her podcast.

Justin Caine, good fruit video

You shouldn’t underestimate a person with a disability, said Justin Caine, and employing them should be “no-brainer.”

Justin Caine of Good Fruit Video poses for a portrait in his company's East Lansing studio on Wednesday, November 4, 2021.

Caine knows that better than anyone. He suffers from ataxia, loss of total control over his body movements, and he has problems with balance and fine motor skills. His speech is slowed down, sometimes scrambled – the result of a large cancerous tumor on Caine’s cerebellum that hemorrhaged when he was 10 years old.

He spent almost five months in the hospital, relearning to walk, talk and swallow. Today, he says he’s proof that people with disabilities are motivated to succeed. Caine is an aspiring Paralympic athlete, small business owner and advocate for people with disabilities.

“The dedication and motivation of people with disabilities is incredible,” Caine said. “When you are a person with a disability, so many people doubt you and so many people expect nothing from you. There are fewer opportunities available to you than a person without a disability.”

The result, Caine said, is that people with disabilities work harder.

At Good Fruit Video, the East Lansing-based video production company he co-founded in 2008, more than half of its staff are disabled.

This year, Good Fruit was named Small Business of the Year 2021 by the Michigan Diversity Council.

“I knew that if I found the right people with disabilities who were uncertain but motivated, they would take our business to the next level,” Caine said. “In three years, what Good Fruit wants to be is a much bigger organization than we are today.”

Parker Curtis, Rahjah Evans, Welfare of the Wild Fern

The LGBTQ-centric wellness center at 2929 Covington Court in Lansing Township has grown from 6 providers to 20 in nine months of operation. Neither therapist Parker Curtis-Evans, 45, nor billing specialist Rahjah Curtis-Evans, 33, could have predicted the growth of their business.

Curtis originally planned it to be a private practice after being forced to move on to family life when the pandemic struck. Their intentions were to serve marginalized communities as it is difficult for them to find a trusted and secure therapist.

Welfare of wild ferns: New LGBTQ Wellness Center Deals With Haircuts, Tips, Massage Therapy And More

Curtis is not binary and uses the them / them pronouns. Evans is homosexual.

Plans have changed to add more cosmetic services as trans and non-binary people seek resources from someone they feel safe with.

Rahjah Evans and Parker Curtis of Wild Ferns Wellness in Lansing, pictured on Friday November 5, 2021. The couple opened the center last February.  The center is a unique collaboration of interdisciplinary providers who seek to increase accessibility to support and provide holistic services to women, BI-POCs and those who identify as LGBTQIA2S +.

“I was like ‘why not’ because, in the worst case scenario, we would still have therapists and all those offices rented,” Curtis said.

The interweaving of LGBTQ and minority-friendly services in one location led the couple to transform the space into a community hub, often selling local artwork and coordinating support groups.

“Countless people I worked with were against everything,” Evans said. “I had to deal with micro-attacks, critical stares and all that. Coming here and not feeling anything, it’s a little euphoric.”

The success of Wild Ferns Wellness hangs over individual businesses such as Rizza Benton’s Roots Hair Lounge and Sydney Eckhoff’s photography business.

Both said the center may soon expand up into the building as new services are added. Curtis said they were focusing on recruiting a black therapist to better serve black clients at the center. Evans sought to add more community events such as toy drives, clothing donations, and support groups.

Najeema Iman

From the start, 33-year-old Najeem Iman saw herself as an entrepreneur. She founded Curlitude, a clothing company, and Ladies Night Live Squad, a dating group for middle-aged women.

The two paved the way for him to launch YouShine Events and Consulting earlier this year.

“I just had to stop talking about it and get down to it,” Iman said.

Events can change people’s lives and bring them together. Iman started small with BLOCK: AID in June, which brought people to Washington Square in Lansing after pandemic restrictions were eased.

Najeema Iman, owner of You Shine Events and Consulting, pictured on Tuesday November 2, 2021.

She then launched Afterglow Market at Rotary Park every Friday from July to September. The market was aimed at helping small businesses develop their customer base.

A handful of companies in the market were also part of Iman’s One and All cohort via LEAP.

“You are only as good as what your network is,” she said. “You have to maintain that network and sometimes it’s just helping and sometimes it’s just chatting with someone.”

Afterglow market: Afterglow Market Ends With Last Friday At 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 for Iman will be to secure a physical location, hoping to create an incubator for other small businesses.

The summer marquee event and Juneteenth are expected to return next year. Iman is also participating in a new LEAP bootcamp program for entrepreneurs.

“My overall goal with everything is to make sure that I support people in the community and other entrepreneurs,” she said.

Contact Rachel Greco at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ. Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.

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