Learn More About Northern Initiatives

Northern Initiatives works throughout Michigan, with customers in all 83 counties. There’s probably a Northern Initiatives customer in your neighborhood.

Our Mission
Annual Report

Leadership Photos

Customer Photos

Media Contact: Jodee Taylor, (231) 570-0504

See Our Impact in Your Region

Northern Initiatives started as a program of Northern Michigan University’s College of Business, to help build economic resilience in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The partnership between ShoreBank Corp. and NMU was the first of its kind between a bank and a major university.

Northern Initiatives embarked on a geographical expansion in 2005, adding 31 counties in the Lower Peninsula. The region was rural, like the U.P., and not served by a CDFI.

In 2018, Northern Initiatives expanded into southern Lower Michigan, reinforcing support for small business ownership that more accurately reflects the region’s population.

Click a region to see our impact (updated Jan. 2024)

Get To Know Our Customers

Upper Peninsula

Nisu Bakery and Cafe got a small business loan from Northern Initiatives.

It made perfect sense to Irma Boyd to settle in the Keweenaw. She’s Finnish and so is 35% of the rest of the population. Then she realized no one in the area was serving authentic Finnish food – and that there was a dearth of cozy sit-down spots in downtown Hancock – so she got to work.

She’d been dreaming of owning her own business for two decades but life as an Army spouse meant moving every 1-3 years. And when it came to financing the dream, Irma couldn’t get a loan for her startup from traditional banks. Happily, they referred her to Northern Initiatives.


Millie's Farms got a small business loan from Northern Initiatives

Millie’s Farm, a woman-owned farm with a mission to provide healthy food and humanely raised meat, is the customer that put us over the $100 million mark in loans made over our first 30 years.

The family is building a new market on the farm, saving them multiple trips daily across the Hardy Dam, which gave them one of the best taglines ever: Best Dam Beef.

Their farm-to-table market is also fulfilling a much-needed service – providing healthy food where the nearest supermarket is five miles away – “and expensive,” Millie Richardson says.

West Michigan

RJ's Printing in Kalamazoo is a Northern Initiatives small business loan customer

Sean Hollins knows all too well the challenges of being a Black business owner – the search for funding, the wealth disparities, the lack of access to materials at a fair market rate.

“Some of those challenges are still in front of me, but funding was the biggest,” he said.

Hollins is grateful for Northern Initiatives’ support, and appreciates the big picture. “What owning a business is going to help do is close that wealth gap,” he said. “Instead of sitting at the table eating someone else’s meal, I’m able to prepare the meal.”

Battle Creek

John Capers took business planning classes through Northern Initiatives

When it came time to open his own restaurant, John Capers hit the ground running. He invested his life savings in remodeling an old Domino’s restaurant, relying on his landlord to get the rest of the building up to code.

The landlord didn’t.

After only three months in business, with his savings depleted, Capers was forced to close the first iteration of Pop’s Family Kitchen.

“It broke us down,” he says. “I had saved and saved, invested everything. We struggled for the next two to three years. We were almost homeless.”

Latest News