Incu.Cater Detroit

Incu.Cater Detroit is an initiative of ProsperUS Detroit that will pair financial coaching with food business growth and development.

Photo of Joanna
4 2

Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

Michigan: Detroit ProsperUS Detroit is a program of the nonprofit, Southwest Economic Solutions. Within Detroit, ProsperUS focuses on geographic areas outside of the Downtown and Midtown areas that have been historically and systematically underserved.

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Environment & Sustainability

Date Started

April 1, 2018: ProsperUS Detroit began in the fall of 2012.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)


  • $50k - $100k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter URL

Facebook URL

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

Approaching our sixth year of entrepreneur training in the neighborhoods of Detroit, ProsperUS Detroit was confronted with a pivotal question: What are we really doing to help food businesses owned by overwhelmingly underserved people of color grow toward their dreams? With that, we decided that the next step was to pursue a formalized program that matches food entrepreneurs with catering clients. It seems simple, but the reality is not as simple. Having access to the kinds of clients that need catering orders isn’t necessarily as easy as one might assume - nor is setting up those types of events. That’s where “Incu.Cater” is hoping to fill a void.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

In a city like Detroit, encroaching gentrification and years of systematic marginalization have created situations that make it difficult for communities of color to accumulate wealth. Food is a powerful tool for those communities to build wealth and reach financial security. For many food entrepreneurs, starting up is a hill that’s difficult to climb without empowering support.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

“Incu.Cater” is supporting the development of food entrepreneurs in Detroit by creating and implementing an easy to use platform that connects socially conscious catering customers to burgeoning caterers from communities of color. In addition, ProsperUS will package a suite of services that will help aspiring business owners achieve goals for their business. To begin, the first cohort (and any subsequent cohorts) will be interviewed by the team to assess business and financial development needs. For each area, goals and action plans will be established. Each business will be awarded a technical assistance package to establish (or enhance) their business’ online presence. This package will include registration, ServSafe certification, insurance for one year, website and branding assistance, and menu development. To ensure success and to remove financial hardship, each participant will be awarded a credit line of $1000 to help with filling orders: food costs, supplies, production costs, etc. A financial coach will work alongside each participant to manage the finances of the new revenue empower the participant to work toward individualized sets of business and financial goals.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

The entrepreneurial system in Detroit has opportunities for growing a food business with access to incubation models, but there is a need to support growth with financial literacy. What many people leaving the ProsperUS training don’t have is access to a network, especially a network with connections to organizations with money. “Incu.Cater” is an opportunity to take businesses to market with a supportive financial framework. As the business begins to be transactional, financial coaches will help clients set and achieve maintainable goals to continue to grow their business. Entrepreneurs don't have access to the “traditional” early stage funding that others have, like investments from friends and family, so “Incu.Cater” will provide access to a line of credit. Also, financial coaches will be able to help participants maintain credit-oriented capital.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

Through our low-barrier to entry training and lending programs, ProsperUS has a large number of entrepreneurs who are underserved. “Incu.Cater” plans to organize that work by connecting those entrepreneurs to financial coaching, access to capital, and achieving wealth-building goals. It is accessible in English, Spanish, and Arabic, and we mostly work with Black entrepreneurs. In addition, we remove barriers that might hinder an immigrant, refugee, asylum-seeker, or returning citizen.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • ability
  • illness
  • geography
  • immigration status
  • work status
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • religion
  • age - elder
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

In Detroit, there are organizations, like FoodLab Detroit and the Michigan Good Food Fund, working to serve entrepreneurs at differing stages in their development. “Incu.Cater” will complement their work by generating income for entrepreneurs while supporting them with financial coaches and access to a line of credit. It is one thing to provide services without following up those services with personalized support, and we are anticipating that this platform will formalize a process of supporting wealth building while it’s happening with real-time financial coaching and resources.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Although ProsperUS has not officially launched the “Incu.Cater” platform in its website form, the team has been coordinating catering orders for those that have reached out in support of its mission. Through these orders, graduates of the entrepreneur program have created strong business relationships with contacts citywide. With that, financial coaching has been a part of the ProsperUS model since 2016. In the last 7 months, 26 clients worked with a coach and over 30% have seen improvements to their personal credit scores. Coaches provide ongoing assistance and stay with their clients to continue positively altering the trajectory of their businesses. In addition, financial coaching is a pivotal partner in ProsperUS’s micro-lending practices. Because of that partnership, many of the borrowers that the initiative serves have been able to avoid financial hardship.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

ProsperUS intends to focus on 2 methods for scaling. First, we will drive more traffic to the “Incu.Cater” platform. Currently, there are 3-5 catering requests per month. With marketing, we anticipate at least 20 per month with the potential for exponential growth. As well, we anticipate an increase in impact by replicating the model with our 7 national partners in the Build from Within Alliance (BfW). BfW is a network of organizations that have adopted the Neighborhood Development Center model. With a successful pilot, we anticipate working with the BfW to replicate the platform.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Franchising, Licensing, Accreditation
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Open Sourcing
  • Campaigns

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

To start, ProsperUS will use grants and donations to build the platform and begin the initial cohort. We will then create an affordable membership model with a small part of each sale going toward admin costs. In addition, there will be a funnel of "tip" donations to go toward the mission. As an online platform, we will consider ad sales to generate revenue. Eventually, an alternative ownership model will be considered to retain ownership by the entrepreneurs, ensuring a more empowering model.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

ProsperUS Detroit’s team consists of a small full-time staff with the support of two full-time financial coaches. For the launch process of “Incu.Cater,” a few employees will be involved with the coordination of inquiries. As “Incu.Cater” grows, we plan to have at least a part-time employee dedicated to the admin of the platform and the growth of platforms to market other ProsperUS-oriented verticals like B2B service providers, neighborhood services (lawncare, auto, beauty, etc.), and retail.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)
  • Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)
  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income community
  • LGBTQ community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 66.7%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 33.3%

Clarity of Writing - 66.7%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 66.7%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 66.7%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 66.7%

Potential to scale - 66.7%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 100%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 33.3%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 33.3%

Potential to scale - 33.3%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Heather Saunders

Interesting idea. Proposal showed excellent understanding of community needs and current resources. Love the name!

Photo of Joanna

Thanks, Heather! We hope that Incu.Cater will have to potential to make use of current resources to meet community needs. We appreciate the feedback!

View all comments