KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Launching and running a small business can be a lot of work. The challenges can be double if English is your second language or you’re new to American culture.

The Literacy Center of West Michigan is giving entrepreneurs the tools they need to help their businesses succeed and it starts with the spoken word.

On a Tuesday morning inside Bamboo Place Cultural Center in Kentwood, a group of entrepreneurs are working hard to give their up-and-coming businesses a boost.

“I started over the pandemic just doing some self-portraits, and I discovered that I really enjoyed doing this,” said Nedith Farias.

Farias and her husband already have an established photography business that brings a unique take on your standard photo shoots.

“I can take a picture of you in a wide backdrop, and I will add everything on the editing process, using photoshop or different programs,” explains Farias.

The English Language for Small Business program is a 13-week course. It’s a partnership offered by the Literacy Center of West Michigan, the West Michigan Asian American Association, and the Asian American and Pacific Islander Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re really diving into that language that could be a barrier to opening a business or accelerating their business,” said class instructor Carrie Machkouri.

Machkouri works for the Literacy Center of West Michigan.

“We have a learner from China, we have two learners from Korea, then a learner from Venezuela and Mexico, so we have a pretty diverse group this time,” said Machkouri.

Where the learners are in their business startup is diverse as well.

Nakyoung Ham, who recently chose her English name “Chloe,” is still in the dreaming stage.

“I also want to share about different cultures between Korea and the U.S., I think it’s really important to settle in here,” said Ham.

With a background in human resources work in Korea, Ham would like to transfer those skills to a small business helping people new to this country navigate a different culture — everything from driving a car to ordering at a restaurant.

For Farias, it’s learning those words like entrepreneur and LLC.

“Now I’m starting my business and I really need to know the vocabulary to know words I normally do not understand because I don’t have a lot of contact with this context,” said Farias.

According to the Grand Rapids Chamber Center for Economic Inclusion, 98% of business revenue in Grand Rapids is from white-owned businesses.

This course is offered free thanks to a grant from Huntington Bank.

“Seeing them being excited about learning about each other’s cultures is so encouraging. It’s really what we’re about,” said Machkouri.

Whether it’s a maternity and wedding photographer, a training center for expats, or an authentic Korean street food restaurant, these hopeful entrepreneurs are putting down roots and sharing their culture with West Michigan.

 The Literacy Center of West Michigan is looking to next partner with Bethany Christian Services to help refugees from Afghanistan relaunch their businesses in West Michigan.