Miller Johnson offers legal services to SpringGR entrepreneur graduates



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

There is both a need for and a desire to start very small businesses that offer products or services to their local communities.

SpringGR has honed in on that need, in particular, on training, mentoring, and setting up networks for the entrepreneurs who want to develop these businesses successfully.

The law firm of Miller Johnson has agreed to provide free legal services to help those who have gone through the SpringGR business training make their dreams come true.

At a celebration of the Fall 2017 class held Dec. 8 at the beautifully decorated Downtown Market, Miller Johnson’s Ken Hofman told the graduates they were entitled to services related to launching their businesses. The announcement was well-received by the SpringGR cohort and members of their families and friends who filled the room.

Also in attendance at the gala event was well-known Miller Johnson attorney Jeff Ammon, who as a former chair of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce has a deep interest in building businesses.

The services offered will concentrate on entity creation, real estate (including zoning and land use), contract review and drafting, and employment issues. Litigation services are not part of the package.

Hofman, whose practice focuses on corporate counseling with an emphasis on health law, will be the primary facilitator of the program — although it is his assistant, Kathy Gutowski, who is listed as the initial contact person. He says that attorney participation throughout Miller Johnson is widespread.

There is no dollar amount limitation on the pro bono contribution, either to any individual entrepreneur or in total. “SpringGR tells graduates that it will provide them with follow-up assistance for two years... We intend to follow SpringGR’s lead,” Hofman says.

He was part of a community dialogue about how to create greater opportunity for people of color in Grand Rapids, and a few years back was invited to participate in a meeting with representatives of Launch Chattanooga, which was the model for SpringGR.
Hofman was then invited to the 2014 graduation of the first class of entrepreneurs who had gone through SpringGR. Miller Johnson, through its management committee, chose SpringGR?as its pro bono project, after co-director Attah Obande made a presentation to the fall retreat of the firm’s business law section.

Obande served as emcee of the graduation event; he co-directs the project with Arlene Campbell.

SpringGR is facilitated by Restorers, a faith-based organization whose mission is “promoting long-term sustainable change in families and neighborhood.” Restorers started in 1999 as a mission of the Madison Square Church on the Southeast side of Grand Rapids.

On Thursday evening, it was clear that the benefits of participation go beyond the business plan and resource education, however substantial, to the  friendships formed and the support the budding entrepreneurs give each other.

The groups meet at different sites, sponsored by SpringGR partners. Last Thursday’s group was sub-categorized into 13 people sponsored by Restorers, nine sponsored by Roosevelt Park Ministries, and five sponsored by the Hispanic Center.

There were many monetary awards given out at the ceremony, from a variety of sources. The event also included a “pitch” competition to request help with specific needs of the participants’ businesses.

Miller Johnson legal assistant Jerusha White was one of the graduating cohort. Her business, Bel Ren Couture Clothing, specializes in creating chic, custom women’s with the eventual goal of starting a ready-to-wear line.

She, along with Vegan Cheesecake Company’s Jerica Buchanan, participated in an on-stage interview with Campbell and Business Coach Kris Mathis. When asked, “What have you learned?” White replied, “What haven’t I learned?”

White and Buchanan were both awarded $500.

Businesses ran the range from a taco food truck to an animation studio (Michael Lynn, who also won a prize) to drug testing services for industry. Judges chose Jannil Garcia of JC?(Cleaning) Services, shown below, Jennifer Smith from Over the Top Academy of Dance, shown at right, and Archie Sudue of  Melxfashion, a custom menswear business, as the pitch contest winners.