LaMont Bowens has always had a passion for construction. By the time he was 19, he was renovating houses in Michigan, where he grew up. When he moved to Minnesota, he started as a carpenter working for big general contractors like Knutson and Mortenson.
To advance his career, Bowens enrolled in a construction management program at North Hennepin Community College in 2013. For two years, he took classes at night while working during the day on construction projects like the new Vikings stadium. When he graduated, he got an internship as a field engineer with Mortenson.
By then, Bowens knew that he wanted to start his own construction business, but there were barriers. “The most challenging part was not having the money to finance a contract,” he said. “I had the mindset and the skills of a large general contractor, but I didn’t have the money.”
Bowens got help from the Northside Economic Opportunity Network. NEON, a local nonprofit organization supported by The Minneapolis Foundation, helps low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. “We started working with LaMont when he was in the early stage of envisioning his business,” said NEON President Marcus Owens. “After completing our entrepreneur training course and working with our Business Advisor one-on-one to refine his business plan, he worked hard and was very committed to making his plan a reality.”
With help from NEON, Bowens got a loan of $8,000 from the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers that enabled his fledgling company to make payroll and cover other costs as it took on its first contract. It was a small sum that Bowens repaid in just 30 days, but it made, to put it simply, “a big difference,” he said.
“When small businesses grow, their success has ripple effects that benefit the whole community. I love to see the Foundation being part of that process.”
– Colleen Byrne, The Minneapolis Foundation’s Business Services Manager
“For many businesses, a small amount of money can make a huge difference as to whether or not they succeed,” Owens said. “Now LaMont is creating wealth for himself, and he is able to provide jobs for others. For us, that is tremendous.”
A year later, Bowens Companies has tackled projects all over the metro, from Medtronic to Target Center to the Mall of America. The company, which does work ranging from carpentry to furniture installation, now has seven employees, and Bowens is already making plans to expand it out of state.
In a twist of fate, the company also landed at The Minneapolis Foundation, taking charge of demolition and clean-up as a subcontractor on the Foundation’s office renovation this spring.
“When small businesses grow, their success has ripple effects that benefit the whole community,” said Colleen Byrne, the Minneapolis Foundation’s Business Services Manager. “I love to see the Foundation being part of that process—not only by making grants to organizations like NEON, but through projects like our office renovation, where we get to see the results of those investments.”
Here’s how Bowens sees it: The Minneapolis Foundation supported NEON. NEON believed in his business plan. And as a result, his employees ended up doing a job at The Minneapolis Foundation. “It’s a circle,” he said.