Attah Obande ’03 knew God was calling him to something new in 2014. He had spent 10 years working in banking. He had degrees in graphic design and marketing, a growing family, and responsibilities at his church. But he didn’t just want to punch a clock—he wanted a career that would bring him joy and purpose.
“I read that only one in three people have a job they truly enjoy,” said Obande. To beat those odds, he started reading books about finding passion and talking to mentors, including former Calvin professors. He found that the answer to finding purpose and passion was at the intersection of something that frustrates you and something that brings you joy. “I realized what frustrated me most was seeing wasted potential in people, and what I loved the most was helping people reach their goals,” he said.
Today, Obande is the director of dream fulfillment at SpringGR, a nonprofit entrepreneur development organization in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Specifically, the organization helps underserved entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.
Obande cites several studies to show the importance of the mission. In 2018, LendingTree published a study that ranks Grand Rapids as No. 2 in the nation for new small businesses. But studies also show that Grand Rapids isn’t a good place for all entrepreneurs. It ranks 122 of 182 cities for “Best Cities for Hispanic Entrepreneurs,” and in 2015, Forbes ranked Grand Rapids as second worst in the nation for “cities where African Americans are doing the best economically.”
“Grand Rapids has an awesome economy for business, but those benefits are not reaching people of color,” said Obande. More than 700 people have gone through SpringGR programming; 87 percent of them are people of color, and 68 percent are women.
SpringGR began because The DeVos Family Foundation wanted to do more to support entrepreneurship in Grand Rapids. Restorers, a nonprofit that was birthed out of Obande’s church, agreed to host the initial pilot of the program and asked Obande to be the business coach.
He remembers sitting across from an entrepreneur at a cafe. His experience in banking gave him specific helpful insights. “We were going over her numbers, and she looks at me and says, ‘I think this is possible. I’m getting over my fear.’ A lightbulb went off for me right then and there—I knew this was where I was supposed to be,” he said.
Onramp to Support
Since then, SpringGR developed into its own nonprofit, and Obande’s role has shifted to strategy developing and vision casting. “We like to say that we are an onramp,” Obande said. “The DeVos Family Foundation wanted to fill a gap. We serve the underserved entrepreneurs and get them plugged into existing resources.”
His latest initiative is The 250 Project, which will help minority-owned businesses grow. SpringGR found that of the 11,500 businesses in Grand Rapids that make $250,000 or more a year, less than 1% are owned by people of color. The 250 Project targets minority-owned businesses that make $100,000 annually and will help them scale.
In college, Obande didn’t have aspirations to become an entrepreneur himself. “But in retrospect, both of my parents were small business owners,” said Obande, who grew up in Nigeria. His dad owned his law firm and several other small businesses. His mom, who passed away while Obande was a student at Calvin, was a fashion designer and owned a salon.
To honor his mom, Obande has started a side fashion venture of his own, iNFable socks. “When God paints a picture, we may not see how the dots connect. But when we turn back around, we see what he was painting the whole time.”