For many college students, graduation day marks the beginning of a financial rollercoaster. One Ann Arbor man decided it was time to do something about the student loan crisis.
“The Lake Trust Foundation has been incredibly helpful for us, both in the introductions they’ve provided to credit unions that want to work with us and delivering the solution. The grant money has also allowed us to hire a junior developer right here in Ann Arbor.”
-Joseph Gracia, Founder and CEO of Nickels
Joseph Gracia learned some disturbing statistics about the student loan crisis. Over 44 million people in the United States owe about $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. Even more surprising, he found that the less an individual owes on their loans, the more likely they are to default. Drawing from his background in behavioral science, Joseph started working on a solution to change these grim statistics.
The result of this work was the creation of Nickels, an app that helps student loan borrowers manage their debt. Joseph brought the idea of Nickels to Ann Arbor Spark’s Entrepreneurship Boot Camp and we sponsored him through the Lake Trust Foundation. Joseph won the competition and the $25,000 Best of Boot Camp prize. We later surprised him with an additional $12,500 in support of his work.
We connected Joseph with our friends at CU Student Choice where he is now piloting Nickels through four credit unions (including us!). As of February 2020, Nickels has over 1,000 users and is continuing to grow. Joseph and his team have connected with many borrowers who are still in school. By working with students early, they are able to provide education on the types of payment plans available and help individuals prepare their finances for post-graduation life.
We believe that the power of local businesses can transform our neighborhoods and create more vibrant communities. To reinvest in downtown locations and to help Michigan businesses expand, we partnered with Howell Main Street Inc. to kick off a new Rental Subsidy Program. Under this program, a retail, entertainment, dining, or arts-based business located in downtown Howell could receive up to 12 months of rental assistance. This additional funding allows business owners to reinvest their savings back into their business and slowly adjust to higher rent costs in downtown districts.
The Howell Rental Subsidy Program was the first of its kind to debut in Michigan. In early 2020, we committed $22,950 to working on a similar program with the City of Lansing and another $8,400 to a program in downtown Mt. Pleasant to continue our work of creating more vibrant main streets in Michigan.
While Kallie C. (owner of Silverstone Jewelers) loved the location of her business, the space simply wasn’t big enough for her growing needs. So, she was elated when she found out that she had been selected as a recipient of the Howell Rental Subsidy program.
“It's hard to pinpoint the most rewarding part of owning my own business, as there are so many things I’m grateful for. I enjoy being a dedicated, trustworthy business that people feel comfortable coming into. And I enjoy employing amazing individuals and having them become a part of our family,” Kallie said of her role in the Howell community.
Shortly after being selected, Kallie moved Silverstone Jewelers to a new storefront in downtown Howell. The ambiance of the new space matches the high-class tone of her products. With better parking options and more space to browse, Kallie is grateful for the opportunity to offer a fantastic experience for her customers and her staff. The Howell Rental Subsidy Program offered peace of mind as she settled into the new space by providing a financial cushion as she got used to a higher rent payment.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, she has some simple advice: “Go for it! If you are confident in your ability and your business, reach out to other business owners with questions and keep going.”
Photo Credit: Richard Lim
As part of our commitment to supporting small businesses in Michigan, we were pleased to sponsor four business members for the Elevate Grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of Indianapolis. The Elevate Grant was created to help businesses expand and contribute back to the economic development of their communities. This was the second year in a row that we’ve sponsored local businesses.
Our business member and owner of Brighton Coffeehouse & Theater, Marcus, was named a 2019 FHLB Elevate Grant winner and was awarded a $25,000 grant! He was offered this grant for the tremendous impact he has made on the community, like offering a space for local performing artists. Marcus used the funds to improve the outdoor space of the coffee shop. A patio was built overlooking the Mill Pond in downtown Brighton, giving patrons a new space to relax and enjoy the scenery.
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