Illustration of a door sign with the words 'Come in We're Open'

Small Business Development Center creates opportunities for businesses still finding their way back from pandemic

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Nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began to cripple or cause the closing of some small businesses across the state, owners are still trying to find ways to survive.

Since the spring of 2020, the Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC), housed in the Seidman College of Business, has led the way in providing support to small businesses in West Michigan and every county in the state.

The SBDC provides no-cost consulting, business education, market research and technology commercialization to new and existing businesses.

Ed Garner, regional director for the SBDC West Michigan region, said from the moment the pandemic hit, the center has helped connect small business owners to federal, state and local assistance, as well as to information with suggestions on how to survive and successfully reopen. 

Hair stylist blowdries hair

DeAnna Gantt blow dries the hair of a client at HairbyDvG Beauty Boutique in Muskegon. Gantt won first place in a pitch competition hosted by the Michigan Small Business Development Center.

The West Michigan Small Business Development Center has provided nearly 10,700 hours of consulting for 2,351 businesses, which helped them access more than $49 million in funding and create or retain 1,184 jobs. 

Statewide, the capital formation number is more than $489 million during this same time period, Garner said. The number of people attending SBDC trainings and webinars increased by 52 percent to the current number for 2020 and 2021 at 18,126.

The SBDC continues to create innovative ways to assist small businesses as the effects of the pandemic drag on. The center hosted an event in November to create an opportunity to benefit Black-owned businesses in the Muskegon area. The event, a pitch competition, offered more than $26,000 in prize packages.

Garner said Black-owned businesses were hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Nationally, about 41 percent of Black-owned businesses closed when the pandemic first hit,” said Garner. “Most were smaller businesses. Some may have been able to reopen by now, but many are still struggling.”

Portrait of DeAnna Gant

DeAnna Gantt, first-prize winner in SBDC-sponsored pitch competition

Many of these businesses do not have a lot of employees or cash reserves, and are months away from having operational cash, said Garner. “The pitch competition was one of our attempts to reach out to underserved communities and provide the assistance they may need,” he said.

The event was funded through the federal CARES Act. It offered the top five winners a series of customized services including assistance with web development, marketing, branding, social media, accounting and legal aid. 

The first-place prize package, with a value of $10,000, was awarded to DeAnna Gantt of HairbyDvG Beauty Boutique. Gantt’s salon was hit hard when COVID halted the work of hair stylists.

Born and raised in Muskegon, Gantt started her cosmetology program as a senior in high school. She became a licensed cosmetologist as well as a licensed cosmetology instructor for the State of Michigan in 2004. 

“When I was in the sixth grade, my aunt took me to Daniel’s Hair Academy and I remember thinking everything was so cool,” she said. “I told myself that day, ‘I will attend this school when I get older.’ I fell in love with the smell of hair, makeup and fashion. I would practice on my friends and family every chance I could. I even practiced on my cheerleading team — so we all ended up with the same hairstyle.”

Gantt attended Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She returned to Muskegon to help care for her father and enrolled at Western Michigan University to complete her master’s degree in organizational leadership. While focusing on her studies she also opened her own hair salon to stay close to family members who were in need of care. 

Gantt has used her talents during the past 25 years to give back to her community. She offers assistance at various fashion shows and community events, offers free services to the elderly and assistance to the foster care community. She is also a huge advocate for those dealing with hair loss and scalp issues.

“The pitch event ... forces you to think critically about every aspect of your company. I was one who started a business completely backward. So having this opportunity forced me to look at areas in my business that needed cleaning up.”

DeAnna Gantt, Owner of HairbyDvG Beauty Boutique

“I’ve always been that person; my mom said I’ve always had a servant’s heart. Giving back is huge to me; that’s what God put in my heart,” she said.

Gantt will use her first-place prize money and support services to market her cosmetology apprentice training program she developed during the pandemic. She mentors students in the business and helps them prepare for state boards.

“It’s very important to have competitions like the pitch event in our community. It forces you to think critically about every aspect of your company,” she said. “I was one who started a business completely backward. So having this opportunity forced me to look at areas in my business that needed cleaning up.”

Besides winning the pitch competition, Gantt was excited to announce she’s been selected as one of the commercial stylists for the television show, “90 Day Fiancé,” which airs on the Discovery TLC channel. 

Garner said the SBDC hopes to sponsor other pitch events and opportunities for business owners still finding their way back.

“In order to prepare a pitch, owners must really analyze their business operations,” he explained. “As they go through that process, they better understand their needs and what it takes for their business to survive.”

Most of the winners will receive a new robust website with online ordering capabilities and a three-month social media campaign. Other services will include accounting software setup and training as well as legal assistance with contracts and trademarks.