Noelle Cooper and Brenda Vorus operate Design to Shine Salon in Madison Heights. Vorus said that the business has benefited greatly from the guidance of the Business Forward program, which is now administered by the nonprofit Oakland Thrive.

Noelle Cooper and Brenda Vorus operate Design to Shine Salon in Madison Heights. Vorus said that the business has benefited greatly from the guidance of the Business Forward program, which is now administered by the nonprofit Oakland Thrive.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Oakland Thrive provides free resources to small businesses

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published April 24, 2023


MADISON HEIGHTS — Starting a small business is no small feat, but help is available.

One group dedicated to small business owners is Oakland Thrive, a nonprofit organization that now administers the Business Forward program. Business Forward debuted a year ago in partnership with the Oakland County Economic Development Department.

Oakland Thrive aims to help the county’s more than 36,000 small businesses. The Business Forward program itself has already reached more than 2,200 businesses and entrepreneurs, providing them with consulting, human resources, government contracting, training and workshops, market research and advertising, e-commerce support, legal and accounting advice, and more.

As a strategic partner with the county’s government, Oakland Thrive also tries to help underrepresented groups, with an eye toward businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans.

The resources are all free or low cost. Any business in Oakland County with fewer than 50 employees and less than $1 million in revenue may be eligible. To apply, fill out the application form at

Brenda Vorus operates Design to Shine Salon at 28145 John R Road in Madison Heights, which opened in September 2022. She attended a Business Forward event at the Oak Park Community Center and was immediately impressed.

“It was very scary for me, starting my business, and it can still be scary, but I knew I wanted to at least try and give it everything I got. Being in the personal care industry, we get a chance to be hands on with people’s actual care in a way that’s not medical, and just being able to help people feel good about themselves by improving their appearance is huge to me, because our appearance is often connected to our self-esteem. So, I looked at it that way — the feeling of helping others was greater than any concerns I had starting my business,” Vorus said.

“Then I went to an event for Business Forward, and I’m so glad I did. It was a group of people introducing themselves to us as people who’d be able to help us in business. And I guarantee you, they’ve been really keeping in touch with me, making sure I know what’s going on — any classes they’d recommend, anything they think will help me, they send it to me.”

Sairy Garcia is a Business Forward consultant at Oakland Thrive, representing the cities of Madison Heights and Royal Oak.

“We want to ensure that small businesses have access to these tools to help them to succeed, especially minority, woman and veteran-owned businesses,” Garcia said via email.

Vorus said Garcia and the others have done just that.

“My mentor, Sairy Garcia, she is amazing — I just love her. She is just so supportive, and whenever I started to feel a bit down or discouraged, I don’t know if she realized it, but she’d always call or text with an opportunity, saying this might be worth checking out or it might be good for you,” she said. “In business, that’s priceless, having someone look out for you. There’s no cost to me either, which is just amazing.”

Oakland Thrive was announced March 8 at an event in Pontiac with Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter and other community leaders. The nonprofit operates out of its headquarters in the Riker Building at 35 W. Huron St., Suite 201, in Pontiac, and can be reached by either calling (248) 602-0040, or by emailing Garcia can be reached by emailing

The consultants at Oakland Thrive work one-on-one with businesses to help determine their unique needs. They can help businesses recruit and retain high-quality employees, get certified and expand with government contracts, host virtual and in-person business workshops on different topics, advise on legal and accounting issues, and provide marketing support including marketing plans, social media audits and business communications.

Garcia described Oakland Thrive as a diverse team of people with many skills and talents. Garcia herself is bilingual and works with the Hispanic community. Other team members are fluent in Spanish, Hebrew, Chaldean and Arabic.

“Starting a business is a thrilling achievement for entrepreneurs, but maintaining it is a challenge,” Garcia said. “There are so many challenges every small business faces, like a lack of funds, finding and keeping good employees, and difficulties with marketing and social media. Oakland Thrive provides resources to help them overcome those challenges.”

She said that minorities, women and veterans have historically not had equitable access to economic and business resources, so Oakland Thrive’s support can be especially impactful there.

“The goal of Oakland Thrive is to provide a network of support to ensure all entrepreneurs have access to the tools, resources and expertise they need to be successful,” Garcia said.

Sean Fleming, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, said Oakland Thrive is a great asset.

“As a previous small business owner, and an officer at the VFW, I understand a lot goes into running these things, and I appreciate Thrive helping entrepreneurs and their upstarts. It’s filling a gap by helping people get started, going about things the correct way, guiding them through the process in ways that maybe weren’t available before,” Fleming said.

“I think administration is the toughest part, the part that people understand the least; they think that they know their business model, but the administration part can be overwhelming, especially for a single sole proprietor to figure out on their own,” he said. “Also, I know Thrive has been helping out veterans too. Being a veteran myself, I really appreciate that.”

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, said that small businesses face many challenges, from budgeting and cashflow to staffing and maintaining a good work-life balance to avoid fatigue and burnout. Grafstein said that a common mistake she hears from business owners is an expectation that they will earn a profit right away, when in reality it can sometimes take a year or two.

“I think the county has many different resources but not everyone is aware of them, or even if they are, not everyone can get to Pontiac to take advantage of them,” Grafstein said. “The way that Thrive works is they’re basically coming out to the communities. As soon as I heard about it, I said this is great, I love this. And when our library reopens, I want to host them, because it’s so convenient — not just for Madison Heights, but also Royal Oak and anyone in the general area that’s interested. They can come here instead of going all the way out to Pontiac, and they can get what they need.”