Venture Jobs Foundation helps Rochester business owners

Marisol and Michael Grisby have owned an automotive sales and repair shop for five years.

In need of advice about how to expand their business, the Rochester residents turned to Venture Jobs Foundation based on a referral from a city official, she said.

“We are trying to expand our parking, buy equipment and (the property) needs to be updated, a lot of it,” Marisol Grisby said.

As first-time business owners, Grisby said she has worn many hats to keep the business going, as the couple initially couldn’t afford to have her husband quit his day job working at a local machine shop.

With the help of Venture Jobs, though, they were paired with a business mentor who helped them improve their job-screening process for mechanics, Grisby said. Venture representatives also walked them through the process of developing a business plan and becoming a limited liability corporation to protect their assets from lawsuits.

The couple were also referred to the city’s micro-loan program and received a $3,000 loan to purchase equipment, Grisby added. Now, her husband is working full time in the business alongside her and they plan to hire more staff.

“Taking time to get everything more organized and know where the money is going has helped us a lot in how we’re going to spend and plan for next year,” she said.

Helping city business owners like the Grisbys flourish and create jobs in Rochester is the goal of the Venture Jobs Foundation, explained Deacon John McDermott, its director of financial services, and Jill Freeman, director of strategic partnerships.

The foundation was created about four years ago by Dennis DeLeo from the local Trillium Group investment firm, Deacon McDermott said. DeLeo wanted to find a way to help the small business owners that pitched him their ideas but didn’t meet the criteria for the kind of large venture capital investments the firm makes, he added.

Venture Jobs’ goal is “to revitalize the community,” Deacon McDermott said. “The challenge is getting into those communities (in Rochester) and helping them grow.”

The foundation will provide $10,000 to $50,000 micro-loans to existing businesses like the Grisbys that seek to grow and add low- to middle-skill jobs, according to information at For entrepreneurs there is the Job Kitchen Accelerator program that provides mentorship and guidance on opening nontechnical businesses so they can pitch their ideas to investors.

Businesses “not up and running need a different kind of support,” Freeman said.

Deacon McDermott said providing entrepreneurs and existing business owners with these new opportunities to obtain investment funds is necessary for several reasons:

• Large banks are generally focused on granting business loans that total $250,000 or more as a way to boost profits.

• Banks mainly offer asset-based lending, such as using a house for collateral to start a business, but residents in lower-income neighborhoods may not have those kinds of assets to use.

• Business hubs in the suburbs have resulted in fewer companies choosing to invest in businesses in downtown Rochester.

• Potential small business owners often need business-readiness support to create business and marketing plans and manage costs to ensure success.

“The biggest problem is not capital, it’s knowledge, what to do, how to run this stuff,” Deacon McDermott said. “They don’t know what they don’t know.”

A lack of access to investment funds for the kinds of smaller businesses that could create jobs also contributes to the poverty so prevalent in the city, he said.

Access to information also is needed, he noted. Other community resources are available, Deacon McDermott added, including the local office of the state’s Small Business Development Corp. and the Hi-Tech Rochester business incubator, which will serve as collaborators with Venture. But they may not provide the kind of outreach and direct service that the foundation is seeking to do, he said.

“There’s not much in the way of structured support,” Deacon McDermott said. “That’s where we come in to serve the needs of emerging businesses in low-income areas providing capital and structures.”

Venture Jobs also will work in tandem with the Rochester chapter of SCORE, a national nonprofit organization that connects volunteer mentors with business owners, and Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Urban Enterprise, where the Jobs Kitchen sessions will take place, Deacon McDermott said. Venture Jobs also has been certified as a U.S. Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institution, which will provide access to low-interest, long-term loans from participating banks.

The foundation also is working with several community agencies to help create awareness about its programs and obtain referrals, including Ibero-American Action League, the Urban League of Rochester and the Rochester Hispanic Business Association. The foundation needs more residents of color to serve as volunteer mentors, Deacon McDermott and Freeman said.

“Rochester needs an oomph,” Freeman remarked. “The talent is there.”

Marisol Grisby said Venture Jobs has already helped her business flourish because she and her husband were able to hire more staff. And people continue knocking on her door looking for work, including neighborhood kids, so the couple’s dream is to have a franchise of shops, she said.

“I want jobs to stop leaving Rochester,” she said. “If we’re able to expand, we’ll be able to provide for our community.”

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