Although the city of Detroit is experiencing an electrifying period of urban revitalization, many residents believe that the city’s economic renaissance has yet to reach the neighborhoods outside of the downtown and midtown areas. Raphael Wright is looking to help change that.
Wright, 28, is a local entrepreneur and investor from Detroit. He is the founder of Urban Plug L3C, an organization designed to build wealth within Detroit’s inner city through creating group investing platforms.
Wright is looking to take on his biggest venture yet: opening a black-owned grocery store on Detroit’s east side.
“I’m still in Detroit. So I walk outside, I still see so many people struggling, particularly in the African-American community, so much poverty and no real accumulation of wealth in the inner cities,” Wright told HuffPost of the city, which is over 80 percent black. “It’s a graveyard. We want to introduce group investing to the black community in the inner city.”
Wright and his partner, Theo Easter, decided to take matters into their own hands. “Our goal is to build up the inner city, particularly among our minority population,” Wright said. “But at this same time, we want to tackle social issues inside the community as well.”
One of the social issues they want to tackle is community wellness. Wright was diagnosed as diabetic at the age of 19.
“We both had a passion toward food and health. We both decided to help tackle the problem of food deserts in the inner city, so we wanted to create a grocery store,” Wright said. “For one, we wanted to provide high quality food in the inner city but wanted to also introduce our group investment platform through this venture.”
Although Detroit’s status as a “food desert” is highly debated, it is difficult for the average resident without a car to get to a grocery store, due to issues of crime or lack of public transportation. Studies have found that food accessibility and the difficulty to obtain food is a serious problem in Detroit.
Wright is currently raising money to fund the costs for a grocery store. He has raised over $11,000 so far through GoFundMe, but is looking to raise $100,000.
Programs like Motor City Match will help Wright refine his goals. Motor City Match, introduced in 2015, helps Detroit-based entrepreneurs find funding and real estate in order to grow their business in the city.
Wright earned a Motor City Match plan award, which gave him access to free business planning coursework that will eventually help guide his venture.
“Motor City Match is a great tool for entrepreneurs in Detroit,” said Michael Rafferty, vice president of small business development for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. “It can help entrepreneurs with developing a business plan, selecting a real estate location within the city, securing funding, and a wealth of other tools.”
Motor City Match has awarded roughly $3 million in grants to more than 60 Detroit-based businesses and over 500 entrepreneurs, according to Crain’s Detroit Business.
Wright plans to eventually open up this grocery store, build it up as a successful business, sell half of the store to community organizations and neighborhood associations, and then use those funds to eventually open a chain of grocery stores.
“We’ve kinda got like a three-year window,” he said. “The idea is that, in three years, we would have built this store up to what it needs to be while at the same time, while incorporating different media initiatives and different social projects, build this community up to a cohesive team and a corporate partnership.”
Wright says the group investing methods other minority groups have encouraged him to pursue this grocery store. The Mexicantown neighborhood in southwest Detroit, for example, is a model of the burgeoning success of Latino-owned businesses within the city.
“The methods that they have taken to stay together and keep their communities up and vibrant, we have studied those practices and strategies, and we want to apply them to the Black community,” he said. “The informal banking system that they have, the money pooling system, the way that they keep their neighborhoods clean and keep the businesses running and surviving.”
Wright also has some advice for young entrepreneurs.
“I want to let people know that you don’t have to turn to a life of crime, especially those that come from where we come from,” he said. “Pursue your ideas. Get a mentor. Keep your eyes and ears open.”