Lean Rocket Lab helps small businesses trying to get started in Jackson


JACKSON, MI – Lean Rocket Lab began its journey in Jackson in 2018 with the goal of creating an entrepreneurial hub for manufacturers.

The hub at 133 W. Michigan Ave. specifically focused on companies developing technology products in central Michigan. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lean Rocket Lab saw a great need to help local entrepreneurs start or expand their businesses.

“People in our community came to our doorstep and said, ‘Hey, I’m trying to open a restaurant or a bakery or a boutique or whatever,’ and so we just wanted to respond to that,” co-founder Brandon told Marken.

Thus the LOCAL program was born.

It began with a conversation between Lean Rocket Lab co-founders Marken and Ken Seneff and American 1 Credit Union about establishing a five-year, $5 million partnership fund to help companies raise equity funding.

Related: New $5M Loan Program Will Help Small Businesses in Jackson

Eleven applicants, ranging from bakeries to decorating shops, were accepted into the program in 2022 and completed the year-long apprenticeship, which included attending a six-week boot camp, being assigned a mentor and tasked with custom milestones for their business, Marken said.

The customized program taught entrepreneurs things they need to know to run a successful business, said Christie Myers, director of Lean Rocket LOCAL.

“For some of them it’s been very simple, like making sure they set up their LLC, they get their finances in order, or they get to a place where they can take the next step,” Myers said.

The financial help was also a big draw for businesses. Each time a milestone was reached, a company was compensated up to $2,500 and could also apply for a loan from the American 1 Credit Union Fund, Myers said.

The program was intense but worth it, said sisters Mallory Vredeveld and Maddison Husted, co-owners of The Five Forks Bakery, 1194 N. West Ave., who signed up to attend.

“They brought in experts on different aspects of things you should know (about owning a business),” Vredeveld said. “How a (CPA) came to talk about taxes and finance.”

Neither sister had a business background, so the education they received led to the success they have now, they said.

“It was really beneficial for us to get an introduction to areas where we knew we really needed to improve our learning in order for us to be successful in the long term,” said Husted.

That included learning how to apply for a loan, which the couple did from the $5 million fund. The money was used for part of a down payment and some equipment for their bakery, which opened in February.

Related: What’s that in Jackson? A new bakery is born

“Lean Rocket Lab and American 1 are absolutely the ones we would primarily credit for helping us develop this as quickly as we have,” said Vredeveld. “This year we have transitioned from being a home baker to opening our brick and mortar store.”

Vito’s Espresso also found help through the program in moving to its current location at 7975 Spring Arbor Road in Spring Arbor.

Budgeting and not knowing how to apply for a loan were barriers to Vito’s Espresso, said owners Vic and Linda Schiro. The Lean Rocket Lab program helped.

Through the program’s mentoring and bootcamp, the couple not only learned how to budget effectively, but were also pushed toward personal goals like updating their tax information and improving their building.

“It was worth our time, and I think it’s worth everyone’s time,” said Linda Shiro. “There are always things that (business owners) can learn.”

The program’s $2,500 milestone bonus also helps.

“You grow and get a cookie for it,” said Vic Shiro.

Lean Rocket Lab looks forward to continuing this program, Myers said. Applications for the second round of the LOCAL program are currently open and can be found here.

All applicants will be screened and must present themselves before the LOCAL Advisory Committee, which will select the top 10 companies for the LOCAL 2023 program.

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