Boston Fed LELE team launches grant program to support entrepreneurs of color
6 receive $4K awards as program seeks to rally community, build supplier diversity
After several unsuccessful attempts to open an ice cream shop, Ludwig Jean-Louis spotted a “for sale” sign by Cravin’s Soft Serve & Frozen Yogurt while driving through his town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in early 2022.
The 27-year-old had most recently tried to purchase a nearby shop in Lenox, but the plan fell through, and he’d gotten behind on bills. But maybe now was the time to try again. His mother had recently died, he’d become the head of the household, and he wanted to start building a financial safety net for his family.
“When I saw that Cravin’s was for sale, I thought, ‘It doesn’t hurt to make a call,’” Jean-Louis said.
That call eventually led to a deal, and Jean-Louis purchased Cravin’s in May 2022. Then, in early 2023, he learned he’d won a $4,000 grant for his business through Leaders for an Equitable Pittsfield, part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s LELE program.
LELE program aims to strengthen economies in smaller cities
The LELE program, part of the Bank’s Working Places initiative, supports local leaders who are working to strengthen the economies of smaller cities in Massachusetts. The Federal Reserve does not provide grant funding, but programs like LELE can benefit from philanthropic dollars. Donations to LELE are designated for use by an independent advisory group that selects recipients based on the merits of their proposals. Two Pittsfield LELE team members, brothers Auric and A.J. Enchill, used the money to create a grant program for local business owners and entrepreneurs of color.
The other grant winners, who also received $4,000, include:
- Maria Arias, leader of the Maggie Sadoway Immigrant Cooperative, a sewing business
- Miriam Orengo, co-creator of catering business La Cocineras Latinas
- Jocelyn Guelce, owner of digital marketing firm Guelce Collaborative Marketing
- Ranisha Grice, owner of organic beauty and wellness brand Grice Beauty
- Goundo Behanzin, owner of specialty grocery store Berkshire International Market
The Boston Fed’s Ines Palmarin, a LELE program leader, said the grant program aligns with the Bank’s mission to create a more inclusive economy.
“The Pittsfield team is directly contributing to this goal, and it’s helping small, independent businesses build something successful and thrive,” she said.
A.J. Enchill said the LELE team’s objective is to increase local supplier diversity, which requires access to capital and consistent community support.
“You need the community to rally around your business. … That's how a mom-and-pop business keeps going,” he said. “That's what we're here to do, and that's what we achieved.”
Jean-Louis plans to use the funds to purchase new equipment and potentially begin turning the seasonal ice cream shop into a café that can serve community members year-round.
“It feels like a step in the right direction,” he said.
Grant program focuses on promoting inclusion, reducing biases
The Enchill brothers know what a new business needs to survive because their family has lived it. Their parents immigrated from Ghana, and they run a stitching and embroidery business in Pittsfield.
“The family business has seen its challenges, but all in all we’ve been successful,” Auric Enchill said. “That's in part due to the community rallying around us or having access to certain opportunities that we feel others might not, particularly grants.”
As they designed the grant application, they prioritized making it accessible and equitable: They made sure it was available in English and Spanish, and they also used software that allowed users to save their progress, so they could return to the application later.
“For someone who is pressed for time and juggling many roles, having that software is really meaningful,” A.J. Enchill said.
To limit misinterpretations and reduce biases, the brothers shared a rubric for each question on the application. They carefully considered each question to make sure it wouldn’t be a barrier for applicants, and they held one-on-one workshops with applicants to fix any issues and discuss how responses could be improved. The brothers also connected with local community “champions” through LELE, and they said their advice was critical as they created the grant program.
A.J. and Auric Enchill said they are creating a report that will be shared with the city of Pittsfield, so that other grant programs can improve inclusion.
“The applicants who went through the process now have more confidence to apply for other grants in the future, as well as the skills that are necessary to be awarded,” A.J. Enchill said.
Learn more about the Boston Fed’s LELE program on the Working Places website.