Flint, MI—Before COVID-19, Flint SOUP was a quarterly dinner where guests came with $5 and a hunger to help fund Flint’s next startup.
Over a meal of soup, salad, and bread, four to five hopeful entrepreneurs would pitch their business idea for diners to vote on. The idea that got the most votes won the combined total of the $5 donations: a micro-grant that most recently amounted to $3,200.
“It’s not like your normal kind of pitch competition with a judging panel,” said James Shuttleworth, co-founder of Flint SOUP. “It’s the community itself—not coming to judge you but to say, ‘Hey, how can I help?’”
Like many organizations, Flint SOUP had to pivot during the pandemic.
Its founders, Shuttleworth and Adrian Montague, developed new programming to support Flint startups through the changing economic landscape. They also moved their normal Flint SOUP dinners online, scheduling the events for the last quarter of this year.
In doing so, Flint SOUP’s 2021 entrepreneurs have all won micro-grants in the last few weeks, pitching to Zoom rooms of $5 investors on Saturday mornings.
Here’s a little bit more about them.
Matt and Jen Foss: Project Forty
Matt Foss was studying to be a youth pastor in 2001 when he watched a video of a juvenile court judge that took young people on trips from Lake Superior to the Hudson Bay over 70 days.
“I just really felt like God said: that’s you,” Foss said, his wife and co-founder, Jen Foss, sitting nearby.
Matt Foss began running wilderness trips that same year, and by 2009 the pair gained nonprofit status for Project Forty, which they define as a “wilderness mentorship program.”
“We use wilderness trips as a catalyst to start relationships with teens and young adults,” Matt Foss said. The trips are meant to teach skills, discipline, and fellowship.
“Every person is different and so the needs are different,” he said. “We just want to help our teens develop into mature adults who can be responsible.”
The Fosses plan to use their $2,000 micro-grant to train a new guide.
“That is what it takes to train one guide for two years,” Matt Foss said.
“Then you’re able to involve more kids in adventures and relationships that we just wouldn’t have been able to have,” Jen Foss added.
Project Forty currently runs trips to Grand Ledge, Mich., near Lansing, Mich., and Red River Gorge in Kentucky. More information can be found on Project Forty’s website.
Jakisha Robinson: Kidz World Flint Childcare Center
Jakisha Robinson is in the very early stages of building a daycare for children six weeks to four years old, but she has a plan.
“Some of the things that I would like to offer at the daycare are foreign language, dance, sign language, and really just focusing on fine motor skills,” Robinson said.
In her Nov. 20 pitch, Robinson explained that she had worked at daycares in suburban areas, but she would like to bring the high quality care she saw at those facilities to Flint—and at a lower cost.
“I’m trying to build relationships,” she said of how she plans to make her vision possible. “I’ve reached out to the Latinx community and also the deaf and hard of hearing.”
Robinson said she hopes partnering with different organizations and volunteers will help keep costs down while delivering on her childcare center’s mission:
“We will provide high quality service that supports the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive (P.E.S.C.) development of children in the underserved communities,” she read to the Zoom room.
Robinson said she’s beginning to look for a building and will work on licensing from there. She plans to use her $2,120 Flint SOUP micro-grant to pay a graphic designer to help her build a website.
“That means the world to me,” she said. “It plays a big part in the start of my business.”
Austin Pariseau and Robert Walker: Gas Money
At 19 and 20 years old, respectively, Robert Walker and Austin Pariseau are the youngest of Flint SOUP’s recent winners.
“Gas Money started out as me and Austin going around mowing lawns, trying to make some money for ourselves,” said Walker. “But what it is right now is actually a mobile app and a website that people can use to find services near them. Basically, it’s kind of like Uber but for home yard services like lawn mowing, leaf cleanup, stuff like that.”
Walker explained that Gas Money is different from other service-based businesses in that its contractors are exclusively 16- to 24-year-olds.
Pariseau said that decision came out of his and Walker’s experiences working for themselves as young adults.
“It started to show us a lot of different skills that we had no idea that we could kind of create for ourselves,” Pariseau said.
He mentioned learning about relationship building outside of their peer group, deciding what to charge for particular services, and prioritizing work alongside other obligations, like academics or tennis practice.
“So we wanted to wrap all of those things that we learned, and then put that back into a platform for as many young adults around the world to also learn and benefit from,” Pariseau said.
The two Davison High School graduates said they hope to expand their service area in Michigan before branching out to other parts of the country, likely starting in Florida where Walker is attending college.
They also said they plan on using their $1,700 micro-grant to improve the Gas Money app, which they launched in September.
However, the win meant more than financing to the young entrepreneurs.
“It meant a lot because that’s just support from the community. A lot of those people hadn’t known about us before,” Walker said. “It was just really overwhelming to win—just knowing that we have support out there like that.”
Krista Loutner: Breakfast All Day (B.A.D.)
Krista Loutner met Flint SOUP’s founders while selling them a speaker for their in-person dinner series.
Montague and Shuttleworth told her about SOUP, so Loutner told them about her idea: Breakfast All Day.
“There’s not a lot of places for breakfast/brunch in downtown Flint,” said Loutner, who is also a musician. “I just want to bring a diner experience but with some really wild twists on brunch and breakfast.”
True to her word, Loutner used her first Flint SOUP micro-grant back in 2019 (she won again at this year’s alumni event) to help fund a ticketed pop-up for her B.A.D. concept.
Since then, she’s hosted a few more meals, featuring dishes like a “Bussin Bussin Samosa Egg Roll,” an egg roll filled with Indian spiced potatoes, onions, and peas, with a side of homemade sweet tamarind sauce and green chili chutney; and an “Eggs in Limbo Taco,” a corn tortilla with a mini French omelet and seasoned red skin potatoes, topped with basil roasted tomatoes and fresh pesto.
Loutner said winning Flint SOUP, both in 2019 and now, makes “all the difference” to entrepreneurs like her, or those who may otherwise need to decide between personal grocery money or creating a new recipe for their budding business.
“You know that when you’re paycheck to paycheck—being able to have that?” she said of her $3,200 micro-grant. “It’s super helpful. It makes a difference.”
Loutner has a full time job and said she is unsure if her end goal will be a B.A.D. food truck or brick and mortar space.
In the meantime she’s using her second win to create a line of hot sauces with Datil peppers which she hopes will give her a more consistent revenue stream between future pop-ups.
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