Pathway to business ownership

Northside nonprofit pilots novel new program

By Kevyn Burger
Monday, June 27, 2016

The hum of a lawnmower and the smell of freshly-cut grass. These familiar summertime sensations are more than the pleasant benefits of working in the yard. They are the basis of a new business started by a nonprofit based in north Minneapolis.

The Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) is taking the innovative approach of using commercial lawn care and property maintenance to aid entrepreneurs in launching their own companies. Earlier this summer, the nonprofit began piloting a property management business that it hopes to ultimately hand off to the committed and hardworking people charged with running it.

“NEON has set up an LLC and secured three contracts for lawn mowing and landscaping. We’ve now hired our first trainee and program manager to do the work,” says NEON president Marcus Owens. “We’ll work with them to develop a sizable business, then help them move that into their own company. We will give them a book of business as they move forward.”

Owens anticipates that trainees will hire people from the community to work on their crew, offering services to customers throughout the metro area. The trainee will seek additional commercial and residential contracts for lawn care, maintenance and property management.

To support the plan and make it sustainable, NEON utilized a capital loan through the Nonprofits Assistance Fund to purchase mowers, trailers and other commercial machinery needed to operate the business. That equipment will stay with NEON and be offered to its next trainee.

“A lot of our clients can’t get financing since they don't have a proven business. But as they go out on their own, the trainees will have contracts from customers that they can use to access capital,” Owens says.

Owens envisions assisting the startups that spin out of the program to develop year-round businesses, offering snow removal and other services during the winter months.

“The goal is to develop a template as a pathway for an entrepreneur to have their own company,” he adds. “They get to do a trial run and we can work with them on the tools they need to succeed.”

Founded in 2006, NEON assists the business development efforts of low- to moderate-income entrepreneurs in north Minneapolis through training, technical and financial assistance. NEON, which opened a business incubator on W. Broadway Avenue earlier this year, has helped to establish or expand 60 businesses in the north side community.