Entrepreneurs Explore Business Opportunities While on First Path Journey


Do you have an idea or a problem that needs to be solved? A product that needs to be created? Have you had an idea for a business that you’ve been itching to make a reality? Do you feel that with a little guidance, you’d be able to finally launch your concept? If this sounds like you, then First Path is the perfect fit!

Join Southwest Michigan First and program partner Plywood People for a nine-week journey to help you decide in which direction you should take your idea. This course will give insight into the “who, why, and how” to build your business. Designed to help problem solvers and entrepreneurs, you will not only be introduced to a community of support, but you’ll also get a chance to workshop your business idea.

This program has been intentionally created to cultivate a diverse ecosystem that reflects our community. We encourage anyone and everyone with an idea to take the leap to apply.

Are you ready to take the leap? Read about previous First Path participants below and apply to take your first step with First Path here.

Entrepreneur Builds Project with History and People Focus

Although new to the area, James Pollerana is not new to experiencing the change in communities as they develop infrastructure and create housing. “When we were in LA, the neighborhoods that we lived in were ‘up-and-coming.’ It’s interesting to see how quickly that happens and things change. There’s these pockets that come up and you lose what the community was and is,” said James. “Anything that gets knocked down nowadays is not going to be rebuilt the way it was, most likely.”

James recognized a similar shift in Kalamazoo as he experienced in LA and felt impassioned to do something to support the vibrant neighborhoods and people of Kalamazoo. Through Southwest Michigan First, he joined the First Path program to take the next steps on his project.

“I saw a need for affordable housing here in Kalamazoo… and not only affordable but housing that is safe, accessible and built to last.  With the overall goal of fighting the displacement of the current residents who make Kalamazoo–Kalamazoo,” said James. “If I can do a project here or there, help one or two people either keep their building or find a new housing use for an existing one, I think that would be really cool.”

With this in mind James launched Firme Development, which would have been impossible without the support and recommendations provided in the First Path program. “One of the good things about the First Path program is that they remind everyone to reach out to your network and see where there’s overlap in the Venn Diagram and you never truly know who knows who, so make the ask and have those conversations.”

Local Recruiter is Drumming Up Her Own Business 

For almost 30 years, Laura Garnett climbed the corporate ladder, but now she’s striking out on her own and putting the “human” back in “human resources” with her own with her new faith-based recruiting and career coaching nonprofit. “I just wanted to do what made me happy–what I knew I was good at. I also wanted to give back to the community,” said Laura. Her work at a staffing agency opened her eyes to her secret superpower. “I really found my niche of being able to affect and touch multiple clients and multiple candidates to help them achieve their goals.”

Laura took the leap to venture out on her own after learning about Southwest Michigan Frist’s entrepreneur program, First Path, in FIRST & 42. She said she’s glad she did: “For me it’s important to give back to the community and make those connections so that we can start taking action versus just having another meeting. I’m excited to have those tools to be able to go out and build the framework for the business, build on the momentum, recruit, and earn money for my household.”

Entrepreneur Accelerates Business with Convenience 

With a skill for providing exceptional service, Nathan (Nate) Militzer applied for Southwest Michigan First’s FIRST Path program to turn his personalized car detailing service concept into a reality. “If you’re at work, if you’re at school, or if you’re at home, I would come to you. Then I would detail your car like you would be taking it to a dealership or something like that, but I would bring [the services] to you. That’s my main goal,” said Nate.

In addition to the applicable business skills, the FIRST Path program has served as a connection incubator for Nate. “Right away, it opened up connections with people. That’s helped me to talk about ideas and hear different people’s perspectives and so forth.”

Opening his own business has been a dream for Nate ever since he opened his first company providing daycare. “I just don’t ever want to work for ‘the man’ again. I want to do it my way and create a lifestyle that’s beneficial for my two boys and family,” said Nate. “I’ve had a lot of ideas in my life, and I’m just trying to get them out into the world.”

With Entrepreneurship in Her Blood, Local Event Planner Innovates

The spirit of entrepreneurship is a familial trait for Diamonds and Pearls Special Events owner Cea Green. More than 50 years ago, her parents opened a gas station and auto shop as a personal endeavor outside of their day-to-day careers. Through the years, as the family expanded, so did the business. “Over the 50 years of business experience, both of my parents grew. Then, when my three brothers and I all came along, we grew up in the business. We helped maintain and grow it,” said Cea.

With her entrepreneurial spark aflame, Cea became certified in event planning and floral arrangements and ventured out on her own. “We have a very close-knit family and I love family gatherings and always organize events,” said Cea. “So I just decided one day, why don’t I step this up and take it to another level?”

After Cea’s father died four years ago, with support from she and her siblings, Cea’s mother took over the family business. Now, the family is looking to incorporate their passions into the company, which led the mother-daughter duo to Southwest Michigan First’s FIRST Path program. “She wants to branch off and do catering and, one day, I want to do event planning 100 percent,” said Cea. “We’re hoping to market our businesses together because they work hand in hand.”

Although in-person event planning decreased during the period of pandemic safety restrictions, Cea adapted her business by developing her online capabilities. For her, the FIRST Path program helped to shift her mindset and readjust. “It gave me a reality check. I’m a very head-strong, powerful person,” said Cea. “[The program] made me think about what I need to do first before moving forward with decisions.”

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