Fellowship Fights for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs Making a Difference in Detroit

BasBlue’s unique fellowship boosts underrepresented business owners by providing funding, training, and more.
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The 2023 Fellowship Class.// Photograph by Shelby Tankersley

Tamika Mayes is making big business moves. 

Mayes, who makes bras designed to promote breast health, feels confident pitching herself to major retailers and has her first product available to consumers with another coming on its heels. 

She attributes her confidence and much of her entrepreneurial skill set to the funding and training she received in BasBlue’s Zero-To-One Fellowship

“For me, that funding was able to help me launch my next product,” Mayes said. “It also allowed me to focus on my business and focus on my differentiators. I was able to really define what separates my bras from others and what impact they have on women.”

Since opening in 2021, BasBlue’s mission has been to aid and promote female and non-binary business owners. Applications for the fellowship are open through Thursday, Sept. 21, and the final informational session happens at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14 at BasBlue’s midtown office on 110 E Ferry Street. Fellows receive training, mentorship and funding through the six-month program. 

“Businesses in those initial stages are the ones most susceptible to failure,” said Nancy Tellem, co-founder of BasBlue. “Women are facing a unique situation. They balance responsibilities with having a family and perhaps running a home while trying to start a business. Most of these women don’t have access to resources or mentoring.”

Tellem hopes the program will help diversify Detroit’s business community by giving underrepresented groups a boost. 

“Frankly, it’s not only good for business,” she said. “It’s good for the city.”

Fellows must be part of a historically underrepresented group and live in southeast Michigan. According to Tellem, BasBlue also seeks businesses like Mayes’ that make a difference, big or small. Businesses in the inaugural fellow class ranged from Mayes’ business, called Reyz, which has a focus on women’s health issues, to a coffee business in a neighborhood that lacks a common gathering space. 

“It’s not about just building a business,” Tellem said. “It’s about building businesses that will have positive social impacts.”

Aside from resources, fellows are also immersed in a community of other female and non-binary entrepreneurs. Mayes still keeps in touch with her mentor and peers from the program on a regular basis, describing them as a support network. 

“We celebrate each other’s wins and encourage each other when we’re having challenges,” she said.

BasBlue’s goal of elevating underrepresented business owners has received financial support from institutions like the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation and the Gilbert Foundation. Aside from the fellowship, BasBlue has a cafe in its midtown location that anyone can visit, hosts events, offers a membership program and makes philanthropic efforts among other things. 

For people like Mayes, a member herself, the financial support made possible by members and donors has made an incalculable difference in their careers. On an individual basis, people can get involved by donating or attending events like the upcoming fund-raising gala, held in the midtown office, on Oct. 19. 

“There’s so much diversity that people feel like themselves,” Mayes said. “There is not a space that feels like BasBlue.”

Eventually, BasBlue plans on people like Mayes making a lasting impact on metro Detroit’s business scene. 

“We want to provide a safe and welcoming space in BasBlue that is here to support, here to offer networking and offer resources,” Tellem said. “We start small with a small cohort, but Michigan and Detroit have a huge community of women and non-binary individuals who want to create their own jobs.”

For more information on the BasBlue Fellowship visit basblueus.com