Inside Track: He won’t stop … maybe ever

There are few Grand Rapids who seem to have put in as many attempts as Jonathan Jelks.

All of his efforts are deliberately developed, to fit not only his personal life and where he imagines himself, but where he believes the Greater Grand Rapids and Michigan community can go.

“I can never feel true satisfaction in my business endeavors until I can translate those steps into the upliftment of my community,” Jelkes said. “As of 2015, Grand Rapids was ranked the second-worst city for African Americans economically in the country. Knowing the potential of black youth in our city doesn’t make me sleep well at night, especially when the same publication and others To rate us as the best medium sized city to live and raise a family in. In a place where we have strong advanced manufacturing, medical miles and a booming tech industry, we need to figure out how Make sure the rising tide lifts everyone up.”

The Jelux has seven enterprises spread across four Michigan communities and there is much to see. His businesses include Motu Widget Spirits, Motu Lakeshore Wine Bar/Prohibition Cocktail Bar & Lounge, The Botanical Company Dispensary Middleville, Sip Coffee & Cocktails, GR USA Apparel Company and Midwest Tech Project. Businesses span from wine manufacturing to hospitality and cannabis to technology – and from Muskegon to Grand Rapids to Detroit.

Growing up, Jelks had his parents to see; Both were first generation college students. His mother, Mari Beth Johnson-Jelkes, established her own private law practice in Grand Rapids. She ended up as an executive within the City of Grand Rapids and is now the Vice President of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Jelks said he “founded and modeled” the discipline and encouraged tunnel vision for career execution.

His father, Dr. Randall Jelkes, helped shape his way of seeing the wider world, sharpening his world view and his understanding of politics and community.

“His civil rights and social justice advocacy inspired me to not only try and work hard to be successful, but it gives me the opportunity I need to give back and create opportunities for other people,” Jelks said.

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Jonathan Gelso
Motu Widget Spirits, Motu Lakeshore Wine Bar / Prohibition Cocktail Bar & Lounge, The Botanical Company (BOCO) Dispensary Middleville, Sip Coffee & Cocktails, GR USA Apparel Company, The Midwest Tech Project
place: co-founder
age: 37
birth place: Grand Rapids
Habitat: Grand Rapids
Biggest career break “In my opinion I haven’t had the biggest career break yet. The business momentum I’ve been getting for myself and the partners is the culmination of years of hard work, finding sources of new opportunities as well as pursuing our passions.” Every entrepreneurial endeavor is a step in the right direction as we learn new things about the ecosystem. It is this continuous process and development which are ‘watershed’ moments for me. The so called big break is yet to come. We learn new things about the ecosystem. Learning to be a better entrepreneur.

Even with two solid parent figures, Jelks was still distracted by his neighborhood. He grew up on Sherman Street in southeast Grand Rapids, before recently moving into an area of ​​gentrification.

He said his straight block was quiet, but the overall neighborhood was turbulent, with drugs and guns being a common sight. As an older millennial, Jelx was one of the last generations to spend a lot of time outside, learning through their own adventures without the constant draw of the Internet and social media.

“There were so many distractions that could get you off the beaten path,” Jelkes said. “Our particular block was like a hurricane or tornado, very calm, but significant instability in the surrounding area. Luckily, I had a great peer group who encouraged and supported me. Some of my friends growing up were not so lucky.

“I was challenged by the fact that Grand Rapids was a well-run city in the throes of great things, but historically black people were excluded from opportunities for wealth creation and ownership. There are also issues that we still deal with today.”

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Once Jelk was able to envision his future as a young man, he knew it would be best to build his own wealth. He knew that entrepreneurship was the key to achieving his goals. Hip hop moguls like P. Diddy, Nas, Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Russell Simmons helped show them a viable path to corporate America.

“Those people, to me, Berry Gordy, Joe Kennedy, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford were similar to previous generations,” he said.

Now, with more than a half-dozen of his own ventures, Jelks says the diversity in his businesses is by design.

,Diversification is a safety net,” he said. “If an industry collapses you have other revenue streams to anchor you in when markets change. I was always taught not to put all my eggs in one basket. My philosophy is spread and be yourself. and keeps his family safe.

“If nothing else, the economic recession of the late 2000s and the great pandemic of 2020 reinforced those lessons.”

Similarly, Jelks has gone into business with a large number of partners. It helps in reducing risk and brings forth new ideas, which in turn helps all other ventures and partners.

“Different partners help you reduce risk,” Jelks said. “They provide ideas and have strength where you may be lacking. Never underestimate having a sounding board, or a mentor who can help guide you through your emotions to make the best business decisions From resources (and) political relationships to the creative side of things like marketing and branding, when you have strong partnerships, the problem-solving that tackles all businesses weighs little.

“It’s a lot of fun to move in and make money with people whose company you love. Partnerships also bring accountability. I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years and my partner can help me deal with those challenges strategically.” are capable.”

At 37, there’s no slowing in sight for the Jelks. Once he started his entrepreneurial journey, he saw the good he did not only for himself, but for his community and everyone in the city as a whole.

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The good news for Jelx is that the more businesses he starts and the further those ventures reach, like Motu Widget’s strong sales in Detroit, the more communities he can help grow. However, beyond its own entrepreneurial journey, Jelx hopes to launch a venture capital unit with its various partners in the future.

Not only does he expect to make some large-scale investments, but he also expects to make some micro-investments through the venture firm. From his experience, Jelx knows that small businesses are incredibly important and are the backbone of a business community.

He also said that bringing in more minority figures into the tech industry is an important goal.

,In the words of the great Sean ‘P. Diddy Combs, I can’t and won’t stop,” said Gelks. “Serial entrepreneurship is a way of life at this point. The ultimate game for me is to create more and more opportunities, not only for my family but for others. Creating new ventures is about feeding my ego or just trying to get rich.” is not about.

“It’s about building community, enriching people with experiences, and helping our region grow.”

Through all his efforts, Jelks said that he would never truly feel successful until his efforts translate into the upliftment of the entire community. Grand Rapids may also have held back the Jelks and their teammates.

“I am dedicated to creating and building sustainable businesses that positively impact the community in my hometown,” he said. “Frankly, if I and some of my business partners were in Detroit or Houston, where African Americans embrace upward mobility, we would be moving to another level.

“The struggle in Grand Rapids is that there is no pipeline built for more vulnerable communities to access the jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities of the future.”