Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Millie Chu, CEO of Global Entrepreneurship Business Lab, located in Ypsilanti, MI, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Global Entrepreneurship Business Lab (GEBL) transforms communities by building inclusive entrepreneurship programs and strengthening workforce development through a diversity lens. Our work spans throughout Michigan, across the United States, and in emerging economies worldwide to help communities thrive and empower their people.

We create customized programs and implement training and strategies to build inclusive entrepreneurship and workforce programs to forge pathways toward race equity and social and economic justice to benefit BIPOC and underserved populations.

We believe that progress and sustainably involves a network of mission-minded organizations to disrupt systemic barriers, create forward-moving strategies, and turn ripples into everlasting change. Therefore, to transform our vision into reality, we unite our work with organizations that share a similar passion and mission. We contract with those in the public sector, economic development organizations (EDO's), nonprofits, non-government organizations (NGO's), higher education, and social impact companies. Through our collaborative work, the underserved may gain access to resources, capital, and the assistance they need, whether it is for a small business or for families to establish a livelihood to foster economic equity and generational wealth.

Tell us about yourself

Years ago, my family emigrated to the US from China. We lived in a distressed area of New York City in a one-bedroom apartment for a family of five. They worked around the clock at multiple jobs just to make rent. They didn't get a chance to attend English lessons as they worked labor jobs to support three small children and put a roof over our heads. Later on, we moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. After just seven years in the United States, they saved up initial funding to start their own business in Michigan. When I was 11, I started working as a child translator to help my family start our business. My siblings also helped in ways they could. We ended up running two successful family businesses persevering through many challenges. At the time, there were no resources or people in the community to help immigrant families like ours. As new citizens, lack of credit score and credit history prevented access to funding opportunities. Through a lot of resilience and determination, we made it happen despite the numerous barriers and became successful business owners.

Much of what I initially learned about business and entrepreneurship was from walking through fire as a kid because that was the only choice I was given. Even though I didn't have a normal childhood, I don't regret it. Because today, I am helping families like mine and working alongside amazing mission-minded organizations to help others pursue the American dream. When I see underserved families succeed, I see my own family in theirs. This is how much this work means to me.

Since 2007, I have dedicated my career to education, economic development, inclusion programs, and building infrastructures to mobilize equity and equality for the underserved. Although I am often working behind the scenes, in 2019, I was so honored to be featured in Forbes as an immigrant leader who helps and inspires other immigrants to become entrepreneurs. Additionally, I have been in the U.S. News and World Report and dozens of other public and media outlets on economic justice and equality for women and people of color. Over the years, I have advised over 700 businesses and launched more than 90 start-ups for communities.

When my father passed away in October 2020, it ignited my spirit even greater than before to scale and continue building inclusive communities in memory of my father's courage and determination to create the life he envisioned for the people he loved. Collectively, these experiences led to the birth of the Global Entrepreneurship Business Lab. An organization like Global Entrepreneurship Business Lab was once a hope and dream, but it is now a reality dedicated to helping underrepresented entrepreneurs who began like mine.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

My biggest accomplishment as a business owner is being able to meet and cultivate relationships with people from all walks of life and backgrounds throughout my journey leading up to this day. The work I do organically carves the roads that connect me with people who have the biggest hearts, bravest souls, and brightest of minds. I have often said the most meaningful part of work isn't just about building a company, revenues, titles, or awards – although all those are significant and important. The most valuable aspect is the people I meet along the way, whether it is for just a moment or a lifetime, that left an imprint on my spirit. At times, it was also the lessons I learned along the way from both good and bad situations. These experiences have taught me so much about myself. I discovered who I was meant to be, what I was meant to do, and to value my self-worth. Transformation begins when you know your worth. For the longest time, I didn't know what that would be. In my past, from childhood and as an adult, I was often discouraged by society, racism, and those who did not value the person I was. For decades, I believed them and lived a life full of hurt, fear, and feelings of worthlessness. Through quite a journey, I began to realize they were wrong and began to rebuild myself to become the empowered woman of color that I am today. I still have a lot to learn and much growing to do, but at this very moment, I am closer than I have ever been to knowing myself and becoming the best version of who I was meant to be. Accomplishing this helps me to be the kind of human and business owner I envision so that I may serve with wisdom, empathy, and purpose, and my work resonates that much stronger because of it. Through collaborative programs, in less than two years since launch, we have assisted over 160 small businesses owned by BIPOC, women, and the underserved, along with helping businesses receive more than $700,000 in capital access.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

One of the most difficult things that come with being a business owner is wearing many hats 24/7. You burn the candle at both ends and do everything. You are the CEO, CFO, office manager, marketer, graphic designer, communications, HR, grant writer, etc., and the list goes on. Especially when you are a start-up, you have to pour every part of your energy into making things happen when it's crucial at the beginning. No one else is going to do it for you. You have to put time into the work and plan strategically. My life is like an intricate puzzle board with numerous pieces that must fit together. Time becomes even more valuable than ever because once it's gone, it's gone. You never get it back, and every minute of how you may spend your time may affect your business. People who operate an active business do not come from privilege or do not have wealth handed to them, know what I mean. The struggle is real! In addition to wearing professional hats for business, you still have to wear the hats at home and in your personal life – and that is a whole other list of hats. Friends and family may not understand why you can't give them more of your time when you rarely have 5 minutes for yourself. Holiday breaks or weekends are rarely ever a break. You may just be switching gears and becoming the chef, housekeeper, shopper, host, entertainer, therapist, caretaker, and whatever else! Life becomes nonstop, always 200 mph. I do not believe there is such a thing as work-life balance. That does not exist for entrepreneurs because there are long periods of time in your life when the situation does not allow it. I do believe; however, there can be work-life harmony where there are moments that allow you to attend to other areas of your life. It may never be an equal balance, but it allows you to integrate or harmonize both.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

The top 3 tips I suggest before starting or growing a venture are:

  1. Do a deep dive on self-discovery: Understand who you are, why you are doing this, and understand what that means in terms of commitment. In addition, truly learn what it means to value your talent, skills, and worth. This affects everything else that you come across. You must work on Yourself first before working on a business if you want to experience true fulfillment.
  2. Do your homework: Take the time to properly research the industry you want to start your business in. What did your market look like in the past, present, and future forecasts? Who are your competitors? How will you price your product effectively? Where are your customers? What do your financials look like? Have you created a road map or business plan on how to get there? There are many, many more items to research and consider beforehand.
  3. Access advisors, mentors, and business coaches: Know what you know, what you don't know, and who knows what you don't know. Build a network of trusted professionals that can help you become the best version of yourself and can advise you on how to start or grow businesses.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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