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Stories of Impact

Economic Vitality

Lean Rocket Lab Empowers Local Entrepreneurs

“This program helps aspiring entrepreneurs in Jackson live out dreams they never thought possible.”

Christie Myers, Director, Lean Rocket Local

Jackson, MI (April, 2022) - Felicia is a single mom living in Jackson, Michigan, with big goals of owning and running a food business. She’s been diligently saving money with the hopes of eventually buying a food truck to launch her dreams . It’s small businesses like Felicia’s that drive communities and economies forward. In fact, 64% of the jobs created in the United States  in 2019 were created by small businesses. Yet at the same time, many small businesses fail to thrive due to financial, educational and social barriers. This is particularly true in small communities such as ,  Jackson, Michigan. One of the missions of Jackson’s Lean Rocket Lab is to support local entrepreneurial ideas like Felicia’s and give  small businesses the best chance to succeed.

In 2022, Lean Rocket Lab launched Lean Rocket Local, an impact incubator designed to support the ambitions of local entrepreneurs. The program consists of business basics support for interested entrepreneurs as well as a year-long fellowship where ten businesses receive expert training, seed funding, one-on-one mentoring and valuable networking opportunities. Fellows participate in three program phases:

  • The Bootcamp is a 40-hour curriculum designed to help fellows shape their goals and milestones, refine their business plans, and match with mentors.
  • The Mentor Accelerator provides five months of coaching with local mentors focused on the completion of three strategic milestones. 
  • The Pitch invites five of the top performing fellows to move on to the accelerator’s competition, where they work with their mentors to prepare for a live pitch event. One participant is named “Local innovator of the Year.
Shorty's Sweets Eats & Treats makes a pitch at Lean Rocket Lab's Techify Main Street event.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.

Christie Myers, Director of Lean Rocket Local, says a key program differentiator is that fellows get paid for each key milestone they complete. This not only gives the business owner an incentive to continue, but also funding to help them reach business milestones.

What’s more, it helps the businesses become more viable and attractive to bank lenders. This is important because it’s not always possible for start-ups to attain the capital to open, scale or change course. Running a new business also comes with a lot of unknowns, and many businesses flounder before they even begin. “You may have a great idea, but that doesn't mean you know anything about creating a pitch, or financial planning or quarterly tax reports,” says Myers. “Mentors walk a business owner through the whole process. It’s not just a one-off class — this is intended to be much more robust in taking your idea to a place where you can make an ask to a bank. “

Funding from the Walters Family Foundation is supporting the Lean Rocket Local initiative in filling the gaps in the Jackson entrepreneurial landscape. This includes reaching underserved and underrepresented entrepreneurs . The organization has already formed a diverse advisory board that provides insight on outreach, communication and barriers to the application process. “We want to put Jackson entrepreneurs on the map with intentionality and innovation,” says Myers. “The program will help people to believe in their worth, their capabilities and the vast opportunities that are available to them.”

Sponsors support Lean Rocket LOCAL at the launch event. Download a high-resolution version of this photo.