Space and opportunity: West Michigan’s collaborative environment is helping small businesses expand

West Michigan is a highly collaborative region. Whether it be a grassroots business training organization that helps entrepreneurs develop their business idea or a mixed-use facility that provides education and entrepreneurship opportunities through the use and rental of its incubator kitchen – not only are organizations and community leaders fostering a collaborative environment for aspiring entrepreneurs, they are creating a culture of innovation by which small business owners can connect and form strategic partnerships to help one another expand and grow.
 
Stephanie Dolly is the owner of Dolly's Delights, a bakery that specializes in custom desserts and treats. Dolly began her journey baking goods in her home; and although she aspired to become an entrepreneur, Dolly did not have plans to grow her baking hobby into a business. However, prompted by encouragement from family and friends familiar with her talent, she pursued it.

Not knowing where to begin, Dolly turned to SpringGR for guidance on how to develop her home-based operation into a real bakery business. She went through the program in 2017 and it was during her 12-week training experience that Dolly began to make the connections needed to grow Dolly’s Delights.
 
“Since embarking on my entrepreneurial journey, SpringGR has been my most meaningful connection and resource,” says Dolly. “I have a great coach whom I still meet with. We talk, strategize, and plan weekly.” The experience, she adds, “has exposed me to new customers, connections, resources, and overall help.”
 
One connection made that has proven to be key in Dolly’s efforts to grow and expand the bakery is with Holly del Rosario. del Rosario is also in the baking industry and is the co-founder of Cookie Chicks, which offers baked-to-order cookies catered toward a corporate clientele. del Rosario read about SpringGR online and reached out to the organization because as she says, “I knew I wanted to open up our space to help other startups get going.”  
 
After reading how the organization works to get new businesses launched, del Rosario connected with SpringGR’s chief creator of opportunities, Arlene Campbell, who connected del Rosario to Dolly. The two met last summer and in November, Dolly joined Cookie Chicks at its Comstock Park location, where Dolly’s Delights began operating as its own retail bakery.  
 
While the relationship between Dolly and del Rosario can be viewed as an example of how West Michigan’s collaborative environment helps businesses expand and grow, it also creates an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to rethink retail; especially during a time when the cost to startup can create a barrier. When asked if the decision to lease a portion of its space to a business in the same industry was strategic, del Rosario shared some of what went into the decision-making process:
 
“When we were looking to move out of Cottage Food Law back in 2016, it was daunting and scary. Experts said we would have to sign a five-year lease for prime retail real estate and then put another $50-$75k into the space,” says del Rosario. “Had we just accepted that Cookie Chicks would have never launched. Our thought was, with our experience, we could help other small food businesses launch without huge cost or risk.”
 
This is exactly what Cookie Chicks has done. On February 7, Dolly’s Delights celebrated the grand opening of its storefront bakery. Although it operates under Cookie Chicks facility licenses, it is its own separate retail business. “There were and still are those who think I am nuts for opening what could be seen as a competitive business in my own shop,” says del Rosario. “But we each have our area of expertise, customer base, and agree to stay in our lanes.”
 
As for Stephanie Dolly, she is excited to continue to bring the baked goods she’s become known for to the Grand Rapids community. “Dolly’s Delights was built from the ground up and is growing in a retail storefront,” says Dolly. “It is not easy, but anything great takes time.”

Photos courtesy Stephanie Dolly.

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